Last week’s article in these columns about Sri Lankan Tamil nationalist parties seeking a power sharing arrangement based on federal principles or the federal idea resulted in my getting quite a lot of responses from readers. Most of the messages as usual were from Sinhala readers while a few were from Tamil readers also.
Despite differences in writing styles and usages of words and phrases among the readers who responded,there were two underlying themes in the two different categories of responses. The Sinhala readers expressed doubts and concerns over a political arrangement based on the federal idea. Many of them equated federalism with separatism and rejected any settlement based on federal or quasi-federal lines. A few recognized the difference between both but were worried that federalism may lead to separatism rather than unity.
The opinion expressed by Tamil readers was generally supportive of a political settlement on federal lines. There was much scepticism about such a possibility because they felt Sinhala opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to federalism. Since the Sinhalese comprise 75% of Sri Lanka’s population, the chances of a solution based on the federal idea would never become a reality.
Both these types of contrary opinion were illustrative of Sri Lanka’s deeply divided society. While the essence of Sinhala reader responses To Federalism was “We wont allow it”, the Tamil viewpoint was “they will never allow it”. One thing that struck me in these responses as well as in experiences of the past was the fact that many Sinhalese genuinely yet wrongly believed that federalism amounted to separatism.
It is against this backdrop therefore that I intend re-visiting a path -breaking judicial verdict about which I have written earlier. This is about a landmark judgement by the Sri Lankan Supreme court five years ago that ruled federalism is not separatism. I shall briefly focus on the history of this case and salient aspects of the SC ruling.