Chapter One

The disturbed idea of unitary state of Sri Lanka

The achievement of the objective of a unitary polity encompassing the whole island of Sri Lanka has been a prime interest of various monarchs and rulers throughout history. The idea, in spite of its noble nature, has brought more miser,v and suffering to the people of the island than any actual benefit. The process of achievement of the unitary state has always accompanied the suppression of peaceful life of sections of people of this island.

Very often the ambitions of the monarchs to wield power over the whole island brought in foreign powers causing great harm to the sovereign rights of the people of the island.

The aspiration of seeing Sri Lanka under one umbrella, in latter days was achieved under the British rule. Since the subjugation and annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom to the maritime areas in 1815, the whole island of Ceylon became one colonial outpost under the British Crown. This lasted until February 1948, when Ceylon became an independent nation and ever since has suffered a constitutional crisis unable to stabilise itself as a democratic polity.

Can this problem be resolved through dialogue between the various conflicting interests? Can stability be brought through external mediation? The attempts to find an answer to these questions and reestablish peace and harmony to an island which gave meaning to the word serendipity has not seen the light of the day for the last 45 years.

The idea of unitarystatewitha strong centre, undera supreme Parliament claiming to articulate the will of the entire people of this country, though inspire a seeming rationality, has cast substantial section of the population outside the constitutional and political process and has brought them to a state of revolt seeking self determination and a statehood of their own.

The proposition of a unitary Sri Lanka has definitely favoured the fortunes of the more numerous community, the Sinhala Buddhists, who number about 69go of the whole population and has facilitated the imposition of their will over the others. It is this idea, where the Parliamentary process permanently imposes disabilities on the Tamil people made them to reject the idea of unitary state arid brought about the demand for a separate arrangement for the articulation of their will so as to fulfil their desire for a democratic and just governance.

The Volk and the Sinhalese.

To a Sinhalese, the word 'Jathiya'1 means the Sinhala Nation, its identity, and the expression of its collective will. This expression claims as its right, the domination of the whole island. This concept also aspires to establish a Sinhala Buddhist country over the whole island and the use of Sinhalese language and Buddhist Religion in all walks of state life. The others as minorities somehow have to find their way through the uncertainties and insecurity thus imposed. The identity of a Sinhalese has been cast in such a way, drawing from historical myths and providing a 'Jathiya' mind set, seeking continuity and domination over the whole island as a historical birth right.

An average Sinhalese carefully alternates the meaning of the term 'Jathiya' between his exclusive claim over the whole island through his Sinhala Buddhist collectivity and the Sri Lankan Nation by which he carefully excludes the platform of multinational, multi ethnic content of any idea of a united country, other than under his domination.

The subscription of average Sinhalese to the idea of exclusivity, relieves him from any compulsion and the need to seek out and subscribe to a value system that accommodates the mutual rights of all people in a federally structured or any other type of polity.

This situation is no different from the situation that prevailed in Nazi Germany in the early thirties, and the term 'Jathiya' shares a common experience with the German word Volk during the time of Nazis. The term, which was a harmless word meaning people, was imbued by the Nazis with Aryan race myths and was turned into a most potent racist slogan which devastated Europe during World War II.

The manifestations and experiences of the Sinhala Volk need not be compared with that of the Nazis. However with substantial contributions of the English and the German historians to the development of the idea of Sinhala Volk, its parallelism is not entirely unjustified.

The consistent refusal to accommodate the rights and aspirations of the Tamil people and with a history of vociferous misinterpretation, the Sinhala Volk has a long history of assertiveness and is not a recent phenomena. The difficulty the Sinhala people have in understanding and accommodating the Tamil aspirations and grievances, are reminiscent of the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany2. The arrogant manner by which sections of the media has gone about misrepresenting the nature of the conflict forcing a moral and intellectual degeneration on the whole atmosphere which normally sets in such instances where there is a prolonged exertion for the realisation of the Volk ideal. This has greatly stood in the way of settling the nationality conflict.

The inability of the Sinhala rulers to provide apeaceful democratic government to the Tamil people and the virtual dependency on the military rule to handle the affairs of the state in the Tamil North East is the result of usurpation of the idea of the Sri Lankan Nation and its constitution by the Sinhala Volk. The persistence with which it has opted to subordinate the democratic institutions of Parliament, Judiciary, Public Service, the Armed Services and the Police, and the immense suffering it has opted to inflict on the Tamil people in the name of unity, integrity and writ of the government has left a sense of helplessness and destitution among the Tamil people. The militaristic ideas of peace that have found passionate acceptance among the Sinhala ruling classes have come into existance with a continued denial of the democratic rights and aspirations of the Tamil people.

How useful LTTE has become a pretext3 in advancing the last phases in the realisation of the Volk and how it hopes to get over the difficulties and the methods it seeks to adopt is exhibited in the following paragraphs of Wing Commander Mark Seneviratne (Retired) in an article headlined, That was a famous victory, now what written after the occupation of Jaffna by the Sinhalese forces:

If however, the government fails to as Suntzu, the Chinese Master ofthe Art of War, advocated "Subdue the LTTE; by first attacking the Tigers' strategy (winning over the people) and disrupting their alliances (foreign support) by diplomacy", there would be another though highly sensitive and bold option available and based on the fact there is no such thing as a Tamil homeland because there had never been a Tamil Kingdom in the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar island, the East or in the Wanni.

Such an option may well raise protests from the Tamils and from some sections of the international community, but its positive point would do away with a future possibility of the type of ethnic conflict that we have suffered all these years. Such an option would however, demand a precondition that there would be equality in every aspect of life for every community in this country.

That second option is the settling ofthe Sinhalese among the Tamils in the reconstructed areas in the North, and settling displaced Tamils in the South and West. Despite protests that are bound to arise, in the very long run it would prove a blessing to future generations because there would be no part of Sri Lanka that could be called a homeland, by any particular ethnic community.

Of course, such an option should be resorted to only if the people in the North and East fail to be convinced of the government's sincerity in solving their problems and in helping them to achieve their aspirations, and instead continue to support the LTTE. No doubt that when the Sinhalese begin to settle in parts of the reconstructed areas, the Tamils of those areas would rush back, if not on their own initiative, but at the behest ofthe Tigers who would realise the seriousness ofthe threat to their power that is a dilution ofthe Tamil population would pose.

Such an option, however, would necessarily carry a precondition that there be a constitutional guarantee of equality in all respects, among all communities, and which guarantee could only be amended by a two third majority among the minority commitments, at a referendum.

The Island, 22nd December, 1995 - page8.

This being an exposure of the general disposition of the Nnolk to which every Sinhalese either subscribes or shows no Opposition' the passage reveals as to what extent the Volk aspires to subordinate the denlocratic rights of the Tamil people as well as the constitution and how it seeks to imprison anv gains of democracy. Confused statements found in the last paragraph is caused by the emotionalism which is characteristic of the Volk.

The Sinhalese obsession with the realisation of extremist \'olk ideal and the need for military rule of the Tamil Homelands has brought about the inevitability the support of extremist and uncompromising positions among the Tamil people.

The Parliament has become totally ineffective as a democratic forum that could redress the grievances of Tamil people and guarantee their democratic rights. It is seen as an instrument of the Volk having totally surrendered its supremacy to its servitude.

Fundamental to the present constitutional conflict is the territorial dispute between the Tamils and the Singhalese. As opposed to a claim of the Sinhalese for the whole island over which the Volk ideal has to be realised, the Tamils claim the North East as their homeland.

The external influence

In the past, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka brought about the involvement of India in resolving the conflict. The counfries with geopolitical interests in the region do not want to see the continued instability and destabilisation effect that an unresolved ethnic conflict imparts on the region. The pronounced interests are those of India which sees itself as a regional power and that of the USA which sees, the maintenance of a global order and peace as its moral responsibility

The opportunity that became possible during early eighties for an alignment of internal conflict with the external geopolitical conflict brought about the Indian intervention after the pogrom of July 83 against the Tamils. If Sri Lanka has succeeded in wriggling out of such a compulsive situation created by the Indian intervention, it has only got into a deeper crisis than what it would have inherited if it has implemented the Indo Lanka Accord.

It has become a common interest for the external forces, to see to the preservation of the unity of Sri Lanka since it makes it easier for them to advance their interests over the whole island as one unit.

The disappointment of India and its humiliating experience in resolving the ethnic conflict stems from her inability to identify itself with the desire of the Tamil people within India and which it will not have as long as it depends on the parasitic layers of Tamil society to understand Tamil aspirations. This handicaps India in taking any decision to support Tamil interests both within and outside India.

In resolving the conflict of this nature, where there is a serious imbalance between the parties in conflict, standing by the side of the aggrieved is more important than adopting a moralising posture and preaching the virtues of unity and integrity. Such a stance required moral courage which India did not have. After Mrs. Gandhi, India approached the problem from her narrow self interest. In spite of all the support given to India, and the earnest hope among the Tamils and the whole world that India would find ajust and lasting solution, such was the corrupt nature of the Indian ruling classes, the Indians played into the hands of the eternally dishonest and conspiring Volk and soon were on its side lootings and killing the Tamil people whom they came to help.

The difficulty that had arisen due to the short sighted approach of India has also rendered it difficult for other external forces to play a useful role. Resolving the internal conflict of Sri Lanka would have a stabilising effect in India. As the inability of India to help the Tamils in Sri Lanka become more apparent, the impotence of India will fuel and strengthen the divisive forces in Tamil Nadu. As this stress on the Indian Union will be on the rise, with further weakening of the binding forces, India would face serious problems within. Though India has left Sri Lanka, she is not relieved of her of the moral responsibility of finding a just solution to the problem.

Solving the problem internally

This situation leaves no option but to explore sincerely the possibilities of resolving the conflict within. In spite of some significant shifts in the methodology applied and initiatives taken in pursuit of peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict, there still remains great doubts about the possibility of an internal settlement.

As it has been pointed out earlier, a peaceful resolution of the conflict does not rest on the legitimisation and institutionalisation of the gains of the Sinhala Volk which it has achieved by the abuse of the unitary state creating the present chaotic situation. Instead it should rest on the movement in the negative direction, dismantling some of the gains, and the effecting a constitutional restructuring based on the explicit identification and recognition of political realities.

The self righteous position adopted by the Volk based on dubious historical claims and its success in subordinating the unitary state, where it sought to appropriate to itself the right to determine what is good for other people, has brought about the militarism that dominates the political life, disregarding the will of the people that exists today. It has made the Parliamentary process a ritual that legitimises the dictates of the Volk.

History has been called upon to provide ideological foundation for the Volk. In the context of mutual accommodation of rights, which has now become so vital the \ olk will have to relent and subject itself to serious review and recognise the rights of people it opts to deny.

In seeking a way out of the current conflict, so as to establish a rule based on the ideas of democracy and human rights, a new value system has to be adopted rejecting the old. But this is not practicable in a country whose very identity has come to be based in the renewal and regeneration of the old values.

The plural society and unitary state

The proponents of the plural society idea, in this time of disturbance and revolt, have gone about in a flamboyant manner orchestrating the idea of plural society as the ideology of renewed and regenerated unitary state where all would abandon their collective identity and look out for the plural society This idea has also been very useful to the Volkists who have usurped power and are looking for a shroud of reasonableness to persist ssith their disposition.

The creation of a plural society is being advocated as a sohltion to the current ethnic problem. It had proved a Success in the United States of America where people of different ethnic origin have merged themselves into an American Society. Asimilar development maynotbepossible in Sri Lanka, specially in rural areas, where tradition and ctlstomarv rights prevail. The separate identity and aspirations of the two principal nationalities are well entrenched and deep rooted among the people. This does not allow the integration, which the proponents of plural society aspire.

This noble idea of one Sri Lankan state where all would live together forgetting their differences was precisely what the British hoped for and what was assured by the native inheritors of power as that would usher on this land of serendipity after 1948. The first constitution of independent Ceylon was specifically intended to achieve this.

Though the idea of plural society Sri Lanka, still remains attractive and dear to many, the political experiences of this island nation is such that it would be totally unrealistic as an idea of government and would not work. The unworkability of the idea of plural societ,v is also a cause for collapse of the unitary constitution It makes no difference whether there is a strong centralised government with a supremacy of the executive president or the parliament.

Knowing the idea of unitary state of today originated from the British Colonial idea of settlement, a study of constitutional history shows from the early beginning, the constitution has faced serious problems of integration and there has been a relentless pursuit on the part of the colonial government, to establish a basis for stable government. However, since the Donoughmore Commission in 1921, there has been an unprecedented naivit,v and investigation by closed minds along with a belief in the idea of the Ceylonese nation, where all the citizens would overcome their prejudices and fuse together as one people. These were the beliefs and hopes of an emotionally charged atmosphere that marked the days of independence.

The subsequent experiences were not an entirely unexpected development. The writing was there on the wall, but as a result of the People's love for freedom, they were so overwhelmed by the idea of an independent nation and they simply closed their eyes and hoped everything on the contrary to their wishes would go away. The pretensions of the leaders of the Sinhala community in their commitment to the idea of a Ceylonese Nation became exposed only in the post independence era, contributing to the break down of trust and mutual relationship between the two communities. The British could only feel sorry4.

The difficulty in realisation of the idea of plural society within a unitary Ceylon can be exposed by simply asking the questions: What is the cultural base of the plural society? Is it the Volk dominated Sinhalese culture? Or is it going to be the Tamil Culture? Or its value system calls for the suppression of the native instincts where it would be considered as something backward as it existed during the colonial period and provide a back door opening for the entry of the Western Culture? The Sinhalese perception is that because they are more in number it has to be the Volk that provide the base.

As the idea of the plural societ,v has been lately promoted from the Western quarters, and the return of the Western value base can be the main motive behind the whole idea !

How would the scenario unfold if we accept this idea of plural society of unitary Sri Lanka?

Can the mass of Sri Lankans, Singhalese, Tamils and Muslims, be expected to abandon their traditional value system and accept the one tailored by our urban dwellers and their foreign commercial masters and create a situation that existed during colonial times? This is not the only inadequacy of the idea of plural society of unitary Sri Lanka. The urban dwellers will retain the cultural initiative and decide what is good for the natives borrowing heavily from the Western ideas and it will bring back the dominance of values which are foreign, placing the mass of natives at a disadvantage.

However the value system of the plural society will provide a cultural base for our urban cities where much of the rootless layers can take refuge without worries for the future. But one has to understand the limitations of the applicability of the' system to the whole country, knowing the insensitivity of the urban middle class to the plight of people in the periphery.

The Theoretical Foundation of Constitutional Restructuring

The real possibility of peace and harmony lies in developing a capacity for understanding, recognition and respect for mutual rights while agreeing to come together as one nation to constitute a united Sri Lanka. Only the success of prevailing upon all the collectivities that it is for their mutual benefit they have to come together, and by demonstrating it pragmatically the benefits of unity, a united Sri Lanka could be secured. The arrangement would dictate that one has to look to within his own boundary to meet certain of his aspirations as a way of ending strife.

In framing up the basis for a united Sri Lanka, one has to identify the political realities and divisions, the pretensions of the Yolk and its over reach, and redefine the parameters Of governmental limitations at variouslevelsandrestructure the historical mind set and the constitution accordingly.

The American Political scientist Hary Eckstein has put forward a theoretical percept that seems to sum up the principles that could provide a guideline in the search for the achievement for constitutional harmony.

In his words, the political stability that is fundamental to peace in a democratic set up, one could look in the three conditions:

  1. Consensus in the form of government
  2. A high degree of political pragmatism
  3. A certain kind of party political system

Division and CohesioninDemocracy A Study of Norway, Hary Eckstein, Page 230.

The peculiar problem of Sri Lanka is the urge towards the regeneration of the age old norms, along with their perception of rights, have placed considerable strain on the constitutional process. Where there are serious anomalies between the constitution and the base social order, Eckstein's Theoretical percepts provide a useful guide for coming out of the conflict This type of problem, where serious anomalies have risen, when constitutional governments have been imposed on traditional societies, is common in developing countries. This s not found in the Western Societieswhere constitutional evolution has taken place hand in hand with the evolution of the basic structures of the societ,v and the nation itself.

This may explain why Eckstein's propositions of congruence did not get the attention of political scientists in the West. The incongruence in the constitution and the society very rarely reaches a crisis proportion in the West. Another cause for this is the existence of a vibrant democratic political culture receptive to deal with any situation, and is not constrained by subservient limitations.

The three propositions of Theory which Eckstein5 has suggested in his article are:

1.A government will tend to be stable if its authority pattern is congruent with the authority patterns of the society of which it is apart

2. Government will be stable (a) if social authority patterns are identical with the governmental pattern or (b) if they constitute a graduated pattern in proper segmentation of society or (c) if a high degree of resemblance exists in patterns adjacent togovernment and one finds throughout themoredistant segments (or if there is a) marked departure of functionally appropriate pattern for the sake of imitating the governmental pattern or extensive imitation ofthe governmental pattern in ritual practices.

3. Governments will be unstable (and the authority patterns ofthe society incongruent) if the governmental authority pattern is isolated (thatis substantiallydifferent)fmm those of other social segments, or if a very abrupt changeinauthority patternoccurs in any adjacent segments of society, or if severalauthoritypatterns east insocial strata furnishing a large proportion of the political elite in the sense of active political participants.

What is normally termed as political realities confronting the issue of constitutional restructuring lies in the identification of the nature of orientation and aspirations within the contours of the identity realms with uniformity and similarity which determine the existing and emerging authority patterns that makes the polity of nation state Sri Lanka.

What has now been called the Tamil aspirations is the desire of the Tamil people to establish a governmental arrangement that would enable them to pursue a secure life within their homeland and direct their pursuit of prosperity without being a burden on any other community or victim of thelr intolerance. This desire is an expression of their collective will.

The territoriality, language, culture and religion are important foundations of authority patterns of social collectivities whose uniformity within the contours of demarcation makes possible their integration and optimisation which facilitate the rational and effective articulation ofthe will of the people. When evolving a constitution, these contours of demarcation provide the boundaries of a unit that require separate articulation and handling to be facilitated through constitutional arrangement so as to achieve a stable, effective and good democratic government.

This process of constitutional restructuring facilitates the rebirth of a nation leading to peace and harmony.

The present conflict for its resolution, also requires the drawing of a line with regards to the boundaries within which the Sinhala Volk can still be persevered and seek domination without generating conflict.6

The Tamil demand for the recognition of the demarcation of a political unit as a homeland composing the North East province is essential for the evolution of a peaceful governance based on the recognition of traditional and democratic rights. This invariably limits the territory where the Sinhala Volk could dominate to the seven provinces of the Sinhala Ratta (Country) as a homeland of the Sinhalese. Having laboured so much to realise the Volk ideal and dominate the whole island, this may be difficult to achieve.

But historical investigations reveal that the Tamil demand air a >'orth East Province as their homeland is verv reasonable one and if the Sinhalese settle for the territor,v of the seven provinces as the homeland of the Sinhalese and be satisfied with measures for their self preservation and securit,v within the territorv of the Sinhala Ratta, they shall have in their possession such a vast territory never as before in the history of this island.