Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Devolution: More Questions than Answers

The Island editorial, Colombo, April 29, 2012

Making his position very clear that he does not question the need for proper devolution of power in Sri Lanka, which empowers the people and not the politicians, Lucien argues that 'it must also be devolution not thrust on the country and the people, either by a good neighbour or a desperate political leadership, as it happened in 1987'...

Sri Lanka's devolution woes would not end even if the 13-A were to be implemented with police, financial and land powers granted to the periphery, we reckon.

Those who try to find a remedy for Sri Lanka's ethnic ills make the mistake of concentrating solely on devolution as a panacea without considering it part of a solution to a vexed problem that requires a multi-pronged approach. If devolution is the great ethnic leveller that it is being made out to be in some quarters, then how would one explain the prevalence of ethnic tensions which often find expression in communal bloodletting, several secessionist movements and abominable discrimination against communities like the 'untouchables' in neighbouring India, whose devolution is touted as a model in this country?


It is against this backdrop that Nirupama Subramaniam's article on Sri Lanka, Lessons to learn from Geneva in The Hindu of April 7, 2012, together with Lucien Rajakaraunayake's reply thereto, India-thrusted amendment no solution for Sri Lanka (April 28) and Nirupama's response published on the same day should be viewed. Nirupama like many others, both here and abroad, is a firm believer in the 13th Amendment, which, she thinks, will be a solution, ‘if implemented in letter and spirit with financial and police powers and land rights’. Making his position very clear that he does not question the need for proper devolution of power in Sri Lanka, which empowers the people and not the politicians, Lucien argues that 'it must also be devolution not thrust on the country and the people, either by a good neighbour or a desperate political leadership, as it happened in 1987'.


Lucien's view is widely shared here, given the deplorable manner in which the 13-A was thrust upon this country. Even before the North has got a provincial council, India is talking of 13-A Plus and the Tamil Nadu politicians are demanding Eelam! India's vote against Sri Lanka in Geneva and the anti-Sri Lankan frenzy of Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa bent on carving out Eelam have made the victims of terror consider devolution a stalking buffalo of sorts. It is only natural that there is so much of resistance to the devolution of police and land powers to the provinces, currently being debated.


If the 13-A is widely hated, and the SLFP and the JVP are still as opposed to it as they were in 1987, Nirupama argues, 'there could be no better time than the present to do away with it'. True, an SLFP-led coalition is in power with a two-thirds majority to change the Constitution and it has, in fact, introduced the 18th Amendment to help President Mahinda Rajapaksa consolidate his power and get rid of the two-term limit. But, some constitutional provisions are like shrapnel embedded in a person's lung. They are best left where they are, undisturbed, because an attempt to remove them is too risky. For the SLFP, it is a case of what cannot be cured being endured. The 13-A which India rammed down Sri Lanka's throat continues to be considered an unwanted child of rape, as we argued the other day.


Nirupama finds it 'hard to detect the national abhorrence for the 13th amendment that Mr. Rajakarunanayake speaks about'. Yes, the JVP and the SLFP have accepted the 13-A, though they opposed it tooth and nail, plunging the country into a bloodbath in the late 1980s. Over the years, a national abhorrence for the provincial councils has, we think, given way to a kind of national contempt for those institutions, which as Lucien rightly says, have only empowered politicians and not the people. They have become a byword for inefficiency, waste and duplication of administration. But, of late, people's contempt has shown signs of making way for abhorrence once again in view of prominent Tamil Nadu politicians' clamour for Eelam and India's subservience to the the LTTE lobby. Clausewitz famously described war as the continuation of politics by other means. And, those who went through hell for nearly thirty years due to LTTE terrorism and the attendant war now wonder whether the international pressure on Sri Lanka amounts to the continuation of 'war' by political and diplomatic means!


Sri Lanka's devolution woes would not end even if the 13-A were to be implemented with police, financial and land powers granted to the periphery, we reckon. The Muslims are demanding a separate enclave in the East. Upcountry Tamils live in a Sinhala majority province which they cannot aspire to control and, interestingly, the Ceylon Workers' Congress leader and Minister Arumugam Thondaman is against the devolution of police powers which he wants to remain with the Centre he could sway with the help of a block vote. Whether they will be inspired by the SLMC's demand for a separate council remains to be seen.


Sri Lanka finds itself in a devolution minefield, as it were.