Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Why a Federal Set-up is Unfeasible

In the Island of Lanka

by Suntharam

The politics of Sri Lanka is, in practice, an ethnic dictatorship by the Sinhala in democracy's clothing.  The dominant characteristic of a dictatorship is, by definition, to never devolve power.  Holding on to power, absolute power, is its raison d'etre...

In the last poll only 5% of Sinhala will support a federal constitution, even that with caveats.  Thus, changing the existing constitution through a referendum by two-thirds majority is a political impossibility.    

By saying federalism is 'unfeasible,' I am implying that I am more pessimistic than if I just said it is not workable, or any agreement with the Sinhala government will not be honestly implemented, or that the negotiations will break down, or that such a solution will not even be devolved to the Tamil nation. 

I am, in fact, saying all these - based on the more than fifty years of degenerate Sinhala attitudes.  Mr Rajapakse, the president of Sri Lanka, unequivocally confirmed and endorsed this in his recent interview to a news organization when he said that he was elected by the Sinhalese and the Sinhalese do not want anything to do with a federal solution to the long drawn-out ethnic conflict. 

How prescient and what an astute observer of the Sinhala nature Prapakaran was!  And what a smart gambit it was when he admonished the Tamils about the futility of voting for a Sinhala President!  He wanted the interested world to know the mentality of the Sinhala South, what an unblended Sinhala electorate is like and what kind of 'supreme' leader they would elect.  He has been amply confirmed in his expectations.

The two nation situation is the reality; the Sinhala nation in the south and the Tamil nation in the north/east; that, through government action, the Sinhala nation unilaterally and arbitrarily decides how much oppression the Tamils will be subjected to, how the resources of the Tamil nation are be appropriated for the benefit of the Sinhala nation, among other deprivations and depredations of the Tamil Nation.  And the world has kept believing that the island is ruled democratically with justice for all ethnic groups simply because elections are held, however preordained, to bring, equally predictably, obdurate Sinhala politicians to the seats of iron-clad power. Power may pass from one Sinhala party to another, thus producing an illusion of democracy in the island.  While the JVP and JHU are avowedly anti-Tamil, sworn to the destruction of the Tamil Nation, because of its pro-west policies, the UNP leaderships' Tamil-baiting history was ignored by the international community.  By joining last week the rest of the Sinhala parties in expressing firm support for the destructive war against the Tamils, the UNP has not only displayed its true historic proclivities, but also has proved to the world the unbridgeable and intrinsic divide between the Tamil Nation and the Sinhala nation. 

Therefore, the 'unitary state' of Sri Lanka is an imperial idea pervading the minds of the Sinhala and finds no correspondence in the islands ethnic reality. Understandably, the 'unitary state' is absolute anathema to the Tamil nation and will be resisted tooth and nail; lest it should in all probability result in the crystallization of the present subjucation of the Tamils, a loss of all they value and possess, and rapid extinction as a nation.

What then, one thinks of the proposal of a pseudo-federal solution, evidently unauthorized by those in power, which is touted as a political solution to the national question, off and on, just is as the half-hearted and muted 'concern' expressed by the international players?  It is more a red-herring than a sop and it is going nowhere for the reasons that I produce in the following. The politics of Sri Lanka is, in practice, an ethnic dictatorship by the Sinhala in democracy's clothing.  The dominant characteristic of a dictatorship is, by definition, to never devolve power.  Holding on to power, absolute power, is its raison d'etre

Absolute power entails all the power, not only in the executive minutiae of matters of state, but also in every other area such as legislative, judiciary, financial, defence, etc. Controlling is the means to forestall  any diminution of power, perceived or real.  Thus:  

i.  Tamils have to be strictly controlled.

ii.  All institutions of legislation, finance, defence, etc have to be answerable to the Sinhala.

lndividual dictators eventually die and the dictatorship may die with him; but not so with ethnic dictatorship.  Dictatorships get more oppressive with time, as is the case in Sri Lanka.  Dictatorships normally do not concede power voluntarily; they have to be ended forcibly.  

2.  Polls in Sri Lanka confirm the fact of ethnic dictatorship.  In the last poll only 5% of Sinhala will support a federal constitution, even that with caveats.  Thus, changing the existing constitution through a referendum by two-thirds majority is a political impossibility.  

3.  Even if one assumes that by discarding the existing constitution and making a fresh start one obviates the need to observe the provisions of the old constitution, the decision to dispense with the existing constitution has to be taken by the Sinhala legislature and sustained by the Sinhala judiciary, not to mention the referendum.  

4.  If by some miracle a constitutional change is made accommodating a 'federal' form of government, in any such arrangement the fact of the almost unique 'bi-state' configuration in which one member of the federation (the Sinhala south), which in the present unitary government has exercised hegemonic power that has been the root cause of the conflict the federal form is meant to heal, must be kept uppermost in mind.  That is, the North East should have indefeasible protection, constitutional and otherwise, from the South reverting to the current practice either through default or ambiguities latent or otherwise in the constitution, or by reneging as the South is famous for.  Therefore, constitutionally  

i.  There must be equal representation of the two federal states in all institutions of the central government

ii.  The weaker of the two states, viz, the North/East should maintain its armed strength in order to protect its constitutional rights being violated or vitiated by the other state.

These two provisos should be held as non-negotiable in any political modus vivendi both parties agree upon.  Even as we recognize that 'federal' is not inscribed in stone and that it is a political term and as such it is amenable to the 'art of the possible,' Tamils must strive to ensure that the sins of the Sinhala unitary state are not smuggled into the federal arrangement, too.

There is talk in the Sinhala political hierarchy about 'power sharing' without change of structure, a kind of amorphous trickle-down vision in which all power is dispensed from high above by the Sinhala overlords and the Tamils squat down cupping their hands to accept the drip.  That is 'for the birds' of a feather like Anandasangree 'Douglas' and Karuna.  We Tamils have experienced that travesty of democracy for more than fifty years!

This is not to say, even if the above strictures are adhered to, that I am advocating a federal form, without further delineation of the configuration of political powers between the two states.  What one must bear in mind is that the Tamils, at this stage of the struggle, are not asking to be associated with the Sinhala state in a federal arrangement and most certainly not in the oppobrious unitary, almost colonial relationship.  Thus I consider the condescending term 'devolution' objectionable.  It is the Sinhala state that wants an association with the Tamil Nation and the question that naturally arises is, 'for whose benefit-quo bono?'  Clearly, if there is to be a sanction by the Tamil Nation for any political relationship with the Sinhala nation, it is not to satisfy the hegemonic craving of the Sinhala nation, nor to surrender the Tamil Nation's ancestral land and heritage to a rapacious race of people.  It would be only because there would be secure, tangible benefits accruing to the Tamil Nation.  For that to be the case the following matters have to be resolved in the context of two autonomous nations sharing the island territory.  Namely,  

1.  Restitution of land of the Tamil nation in the East colonized by the Sinhala at the expense of the Tamils as part of the GOSL schemes since independence  

2.  Control of the sea and air of the national territories  

3.  Raising of Finance externally  

4.  Economic Policies and development  

5.  Control of immigration and emigration  

6.  Status of Sinhala in the Tamil Nation and Tamil in the Sinhala nation  

7.  Status of Buddhism in the Tamil Nation and Saivaism in the Sinhala nation  

8.  Existing GOSL debts  

9.  'Disappeared' Tamil civilians

10.  'Reparations' for destruction of property and degradation of the environment in occupied territory

11.  Compensation for civilians killed in occupied territory

12.  Compensation for civilians evicted from areas for the purpose of the so-called High Security Zones

13.  Extraction of minerals including oil from land and sea bed

14.  Existing international agreements affecting each nation

15.  Currency

16.  Aviation (civil and military)

17.  Borders and border control

18.  Foreign Investments

The Muslim factor: The Muslims now are getting along famously with the Sinhala, some Tamils say ruefully, on the backs of the Tamils.  Well, so are some non-Muslim Tamils.   Not only that, these non-Muslim Tamils, in association with the Sinhala army, are committing on a daily basis large scale murders of their own brethren.  But as far as the Muslims are concerned, to the extent they are willing to be part of the Tamil Nation, which the rest of the Tamils consider they are, there is a space for them in the Tamil Nation. Historically they have played their political cards adroitly and, if anything, they are very flexible.

Any model of federal or quasi-federal form of government which is practised in a multi-state political environment, such as in India, as touted by such bankrupt politicians as Anandasangaree, will not work for the Tamils in a two-state milieu, such as would be in the island of Sri Lanka, considering the numerical preponderance and the history of intolerance of one of the two nations.  The Sinhala nation, as they are now, would be the judge, jury and the executioner in such an political arrangement.