In a speech to the Inter-Religious Forum on the 35th anniversary of the anti-Tamil violence of Black July ’83, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga made an impassioned plea for either a new Constitution or a Constitutional Amendment to resolve the long-standing ethno-national question. The enterprise is flawed and fraught.
1. Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that a new Constitution may be desirable or even ideal, this does not prove it is necessary, still less imperative.
2. It is almost certainly not the case that what CBK deems desirable or necessary is in fact politically feasible.
3. In her effort to achieve the ideal or the desirable, she may counter-productively reinforce the political, social and ideological tendencies she is seeking to combat, and wreck the laudable goal she is striving to achieve.
CBK’s ‘The Package Reloaded’ will give rise to a far more virulently nationalist regime than that of her immediate successor.
Here’s a news flash; the political solution to the Tamil question exists and has been around for a while. Thousands died in two civil wars to proclaim and defend that solution. Vijaya Kumaratunga and K Pathmanabha were martyrs to that cause. And yet, those who should cherish the cause they were martyred for and the survival and entrenchment of that democratic reform act as if it didn’t happen.
While the political solution exists, Sri Lankan politics is increasingly divided into two camps:
- One camp consists of those, mainly neoliberals and liberal-leftists who ignore the existing solution for which rivers of blood flowed, and try to leap over it to something they regard as more advanced—and in so doing, run the risk of effacing what has been achieved.
- The other camp consists of neoconservative and ultranationalists who seek to ignore, bypass and bury the existing solution—thereby running the risk of opening the gates to a far looser and more radical restructuring of the state.
There were two civil wars that swirled around the political solution. Northern extremism lost that war but are still trying to fight it by other means, vaulting over the existing reform and making for a loose federalism transitional to separation. Southern ultra-nationalism which lost the civil war is trying to reopen it and paralyze and dismantle the reformist solution that exists.
Why is there so much aversion to the existing reform? The secret lies in two contending ideas of Sri Lanka; of what Sri Lanka is or should be.