By Niranjala Ariyawansha
Leader of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and Minister of Human Resources, D.E.W. Gunasekera, believes differences between the political cultures of India and Sri Lanka are crucial when it comes to resolving the country’s ethnic problem.
He pointed out that the Indian political culture is symbolized by the act of new Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the former Premier Manmohan Singh with a bouquet of flowers, immediately after being sworn-in as Prime Minister of India.
“Will our President ever go to Ranil Wickremesinghe like that?” Minister Gunasekera inquired, during an interview with Ceylon Today regarding devolving police and land powers to the provincial councils, under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
A new round of dialogue, regarding implementing the 13th Amendment in full, commenced with the BJP coming to power in India. The discourse came to the surface with the Sri Lankan President promising India that the 13th Amendment would be implemented fully.
As the fact was a secret to Sri Lanka, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peiris, said in Parliament the President had clearly stated to the Prime Minister Modi police powers would not be granted to the Northern Provincial Council. But certain sections within the government claim the government’s stand on the ethnic problem and the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, was not clear. “Actually we don’t know what the government is going to do,” Minister Gunasekera told Ceylon Today.
Last week Gunasekera said he had no fear regarding granting police and land powers to the Northern Provincial Council although he had reservations regarding other provincial councils.
He he was of the view that the Chief Minister of the North, C.V. Wigneswaran, who is a former Supreme Court Judge, may not misuse the police powers. He was uncertain of the manner in which other chief ministers, who have been elected without any administrative experience, would use the extreme police powers.
Minister Gunasekera said the debate about whether the Sri Lanka President had promised to implement the 13th Amendment or not was insignificant. “What is there to promise afresh? The President is bound to implement the Constitution. There is no need to promise to do so.”
Gunasekera, as a Communist Party MP was the sole Opposition member who voted in Parliament in favour of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord signed by President J.R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. The ardent supporter of power devolution said policy planning was needed before trying to alleviate the suspicions regarding giving police powers to the provincial councils.
“We are committed to implement the 13th Amendment fully. We need to prepare a national policy before implementing land and police powers. The powers are then implemented according to that national policy. On that basis, all can know what is happening in the country. Suspicions are caused by misinformation.”
Commenting on the devolution of police powers, Minister Gunasekera said an independent police commission needs to be appointed.
“The suspicion about police powers is fair under the prevailing political culture of the country. The doubts are reasonable due to the level of interferences by politicians in police duty in the present context. People may be suspicious about what can happen and how the Chief Ministers and local politicians can behave when police powers are granted. What can happen when the police take one side in an incident? Law and order may collapse. But a central police commission may alleviate such fears. Under it, a DIG is appointed in charge of each province. Police powers are implemented under his authority. This will prevent the Chief Ministers and local politicians from interfering in police duty,” he said.
The minister stated that provincial councils may initially be granted police powers regarding traffic control and minor offences and see how it works.
Although a Police Commission already exists various sections of society have serious questions regarding its integrity. Chairman of the National Police Commission, Senaka Walgampaya, repeatedly lamented that the powers vested in the Commission were not sufficient.
The Police Department is now under the Ministry of Law and Order which is under the President. Minister Gunasekera pointed out that control of the Police Department by a minister is a fact that questions its integrity right from the beginning.
“Under the present context, the DIG is under the Police Chief. The IGP is under the ministry. When the Police Department is under a ministry, whoever is in power may interfere in the police service. It is against the independence of the police service,” Gunasekera said. He emphasized that people might face difficulties when police powers are granted to the provincial councils without the existence of a police commission.
“The Tamil MPs, who now demand police powers, may urge that those powers be witdrawn when police powers are actually implemented,” he said.
In fact police powers are beyond the aegis of the common man and the primary focus of the majority of the common people and the politicians is regarding the land powers of the provincial councils. Commenting on this, Minister Gunasekera said: “Land is a sensitive issue. Both sides suspect each other. This issue also cannot be resolved without compiling a policy and mechanism on land. An independent and high powered land commission is necessary. Applications must be called and land must be granted according to qualifications. Land in Kilinochchi must be given to landless people in Kilinochchi. The second priority must go to the people of the adjacent district,” he elaborated.
A national land policy similar to this was implemented after independence in 1948 under the Government of Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake. According to the policy, priority was given to landless people. The second priority was for people of the same district. The third priority went to the landless people of the adjacent districts. The policy was based on a democratic principle. Commenting on this, Minister Gunasekara said, “A large number of people were colonized in the Hambantota District under this scheme. Around 70% of the population in the Hambantota District are descendants of settlers from other districts. Then, the people of the Hambantota District did not like the residents of Matara District migrating to their area, despite both communities being ethnically Sinhala. Through this we can understand the fears of the Tamil people of Kilinochchi regarding settling Sinhala people from outside in their areas. A national policy may eliminate their fears.”
When there is no national policy, distribution of land falls into the hands of the MPs of the area. They undoubtedly give priority to their voters and their race. This was one reason for the beginning of the three-decade war, Gunasekera said, highlighting the need for compiling a land policy so that a similar problem will not recur.
A group of individuals, including Gunasekara, promoted this policy at the All Party Conference as far back as 1984, during President J.R. Jayewardene’s time. The secretary of that body was the present Finance Minister, Dr. Sarath Amunugama.
Minister Gunasekara also highlighted the importance of India in resolving the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka.
“We must understand that India as well as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram are crucial factors in this regard. Nobody can deny it. However, the Indian factor came to effect only after 1983. Before that, India did not influence our foreign policy.” He pointed out that India had no issues with Sri Lanka after resolving the problem of Indian origin estate workers.
“The problem first came to the surface with Black July in 1983. For the first time in history, 700,000 Sri Lankan citizens fled the country. Of them, 300,000 migrated to India while 400,000 migrated to Europe. It was an unprecedented and very serious issue. They still live there. The distance from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu is 20 miles. The people in the North and the people of Tamil Nadu share the same blood, language, religion, culture and lifestyle. The problems here have an effect on the people there.”
Minister Gunasekera pointed out that the two major parties had acted effusively throughout history aiming to safeguard their Sinhala Buddhist vote base. Pointing out that both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) are playing this game even today, he said said no country in the world has resolved national problems without the two major parties uniting.
“No national problem can be resolved through thepacts between the party leaders. Nothing happened as results of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact or the JR-Rajiv pact. That is why we emphasize that the SLFP and the UNP must come to a consensus. It is a pre-condition of a solution. Seventy per cent of the problem can be solved through it.”
Otherwise, the problem will be transferred to future generations as well, the minister said. He also said blaming the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister would have no positive effect and pointed out that even the Indian Prime Minister could not disregard Jayalalithaa who won 37 of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. He also said this was is not Jayalalithaa’s problems although the Sri Lankan media criticize her immensely.
“Sri Lanka has invited the Heads of State from Africa to Sri Lanka but not the Chief Minister of adjacent Tamil Nadu. State leaders have not held official talks with the Northern Provincial Council yet. We must implement them. They will build up confidence.”
Minister Gunasekera highlighted that Indian foreign policy would not change with the renewing of the governments. Therefore, the adamant, adversary political culture may not resolve any problem, he said.
“See, Sonia as well as Rahul Gandhi participated in the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi. Does the Opposition of Sri Lanka act like that? That is the example expected from the leaders. People also follow the wrong examples. That will not have any positive impact.”
By Niranjala Ariyawansha