The speech made by Leader of the Opposition and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) R. Sampanthan at the Constitutional Assembly debate on the Steering Committee Interim Report in Parliament was more accommodative and inclusive in his approach with a broader outlook than the stance taken by the first Tamil Leader of the Opposition and Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) the late Appapillai Amirthalingam during his parliamentary days.
Nothing but a separate Tamil state of Eelam had been the ‘manthra’ of the TULF from the time the Vaddukoddai Resolution was adopted in May 1976.
As the only surviving incumbent Tamil parliamentarian of the era of A. Amirthalingam along with his position of national importance as Sampanthan in his speech in Parliament last Wednesday had categorically denounced separatism and emphasized on a new Constitution assuring unity in diversity in the country.
The views expressed by Sampanthan clearly highlighted his statesmanship and made the countrymen realize that if the Tamil question was not found a durable solution during his period it would continue to remain a ‘headache’ in national politics.
From the time the present Constitution was introduced with the Executive Presidency in 1978, it has been described as ‘draconian’ by whoever remained in the Opposition.
While the Tamils were critical of the Constitutions which were drafted from the time the country gained Independence, stating they failed to fulfil their political aspirations, the two main treaties the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact along with the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 had also failed badly in resolving the Tamil question.
Leader of the Opposition Sampanthan emphasizing in Parliament on the need of unity in diversity focused more on the national interest than on confining himself only into the political aspirations of Tamils.
It is important to understand that Sampanthan also being the Leader of the TNA as well didn’t express his views from a comfort zone as certain constituent parties in the TNA already expressing their disappointment over the Constituent Assembly’s Steering Committee Interim Report.
However, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) being the flagship of the TNA the premier parliamentarians of the party such as Mavai Senathiraja and M. A. Sumanthiran along with several other ITAK parliamentarians from the North and the East stood by the stance taken by their leader Sampanthan on seeking maximum possible devolution within a united country.
Despite realizing the gravity of the Tamil crisis which had led to the three decades of a ruthless separatist war, the manner nationalist elements flexing their muscles will not only make the ethnic question an everlasting political problem in the country, but even make the international community put more pressure on Sri Lanka to act in a constructive manner in resolving the ethnic crisis.
Pablo de Greiff
From the time Sri Lanka cosponsored the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution in 2015, the international community’s focus on the Island Nation has increased significantly and the UN experts, who had visited the country in the recent past including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff who was in the Island last week, have expressed their disappointment over settling the humanitarian issues as well as the political process to strengthen peace and reconciliation.
Pablo de Greiff even warned Sri Lanka that he would submit an extensive report on the negative aspects on his findings during his Sri Lankan assignment at the UNHRC sessions next year in Geneva.
In the meantime Sampanthan’s confidante and the TNA Parliamentarian Sumanthiran in his address in Parliament citing the historical evidence based on the legends in Sri Lankan politics such as the late Prime Minister S. W. R .D. Bandaranaike, Leftist stalwarts Pieter Keuneman and the late A. Vaithyalingam taking a positive stance on federalism.
Sumanthiran also went on to say that even before Sri Lanka gained independence the Kandyan Chiefs in 1930 remained supportive of a Federal system in the country.
While pointing fingers at the nationalist political forces in the South for derailing any constructive move to find a durable political solution to the Tamil question, it is important even to remember how the Tamil extremists had remained a threat to the political efforts which were put forward locally as well as to the endeavours made by the international community in bringing an end to the separatist war by finding a healthy political solution to fulfil the political aspirations of Tamils in the North and the East.
So the international community extending its support towards defeating Tamil extremism which emerged in the form of an armed struggle will not tolerate political extremism in the South remaining a stumbling block in resolving the post-war humanitarian crisis as well as in strengthening peace and reconciliation through a constructive political settlement.
The speeches made by Leader of the Opposition and TNA R. Sampanthan as well as M.A. Sumanthiran in Parliament last week on bringing out a new Constitution acceptable to the Tamils were accommodative and conciliatory in every way while warning on the grey areas to be taken into consideration.