Make New Walls in Place of the Old?

[A reply to Dayan Jayatillake]

“The same fate will befall the Northern Provincial Council. It will emerge as the Tamil territory of Sri Lanka. The Northern region will politically drift towards Tamil Nadu, not Sri Lanka. Those who whine for the Sri Lankan identity will have to grieve then. In spite of the war, this hasn’t happened so far. In fact the contrary has happened today. Certain Tamil Nadu politicians revere the LTTE leadership!”

by Thomas Johnpulle

(July 30, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Dayan Jayatillake has quoted Barack Obama but fails to learn the most important lesson from him. Obama’s approach is not war first and then devolution! It is not concurrent devolution and war either. Instead the American Presidential hopeful promises to make a fresh look at problems, especially problems stemming from divisions among the human race. It is a great misfortune that our Ambassador to the UN fails to learn the most fundamental principle exemplified by Obama.

The Beaten Track - trying to create unity through division

Obama promises to leave the beaten track and have a fresh look at things. However, proponents of devolution still languish in 1958 without much success. It is accepted as God given that devolution (and its various derivatives) is the only political solution. SWRD Bandaranaike in 1958 thought same and since then most politicians blindly copy that model. The learned politician did not come up with this model after discussions. It was a hasty decision made by a few, severely influenced by Bandaranaike and Chelvanayagam. Interestingly both of them were relying on Sinhala and Tamil extremist forces for political power! While the former comes from the Sinhala Maha Sabha (that underwent numerous political stripe changing), the latter is from Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (Ceylon Tamil State Party aka Federal Party). Instead a committee (or a few of them) comprising of scholars should have been appointed to look into the matter devoid of sectarian politics. Their terms of reference should have been to find a solution that can integrate all Sri Lankans within a democratic framework. Even then it would have been too late since the Sinhala Only Act became law two years earlier in 1956.

JR Jayawardena tried District Councils but was not willing to loosen his grip on power in any District Council. Even if he had held free and fair elections, the fate of District Councils couldn’t have been any different to that of the Provincial Councils. The District Councils had very limited power anyway.

In 1987-88 the Thirteenth Amendment was forcibly injected to Sri Lankans. What came into being as a result - the Provincial Councils - failed spectacularly!

Chandrika tried many times to enact the provision of her political package by hoodwinking the people and the parliament. People hated and dispersed her package so much that her second parliament suffered as a result. A very unpopular government managed to secure a shaky majority in 2000 that collapsed in 2001. The party that won in 2001 never promised any devolution and they had nothing of the sort to offer during their tenure from 2001 to 2004.

Rajapaksha seems to follow the same beaten track. APRC that is beseeching the elusive political solution is only a collective of pro-government political parties and the APRC is regurgitating what Rajapaksha says!

Devolution and various derivatives of it were repeatedly rejected by the people in 1958, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2006 and 2007. Why do our policy makers still trying to force their panacea down the throats of the people?

What will happen to an unpopular solution?

An unpopular solution will not achieve intended results. It will either get reversed subsequently or will be suppressed. Provincial Councils add no value whatsoever to the society today albeit they consume a huge wealth. People get the President and parliamentarians to suppress and/or bypass the Provincial Councils. Hilariously certain Chief Ministerial aspirants are total strangers to their respective provinces! It is anybody’s guess what would happen to the Eastern Resurgence Program had the government lost the Eastern Provincial Council election. How distant these PCs are from the people?

Similarly one may wonder why no election was held for the Northern Provincial Council for the past two years and why no election for the North-Eastern Provincial Council during the heyday of the CFA. War is not an answer because PC elections were held in the North-East in 1988 and 1994!

These facts highlight the sad predicament of PCs that were forced upon this country.


Obama ("The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew, cannot stand. These are the walls we must tear down") and Tagore (“Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls…”) have called upon us to dismantle (racial) boundaries. By following devolution as we know it, we are doing the exact opposite. Aren’t we?

The Eastern Provincial Council election and the aftermath proved the extent of racial antagonism that was invoked not only by both major parties, but also by factions within each party. People who voted for Sinhala (only) candidates at the 2005 Presidential Election divided themselves along racial lines in 2008. The unity the 2005 election brought to their region was shattered along racial lines. The struggle for Chief Ministership was between Tamils and Muslims and the government had to come up with a rotation policy to keep its coalition happy. Even thereafter a large number of murders and violent acts took place. Today the Eastern Provincial Council hangs from a thread. Given demographic changes, the next election will swing in favour of Muslims and the East, as claimed by very senior Muslim leaders, will become the Muslim territory of Sri Lanka. Already a drift away from Sri Lanka is seen in the East. In 2006 there were clashes between two groups with different affiliations; one pro-Saudi and the other pro-Iranian. Those who hope for a drift away from Sri Lanka towards more ‘identical’ societies abroad will have a field day if racial demarcations are allowed.

The same fate will befall the Northern Provincial Council. It will emerge as the Tamil territory of Sri Lanka. The Northern region will politically drift towards Tamil Nadu, not Sri Lanka. Those who whine for the Sri Lankan identity will have to grieve then. In spite of the war, this hasn’t happened so far. In fact the contrary has happened today. Certain Tamil Nadu politicians revere the LTTE leadership!

Let alone racial disputes between each province, these provinces will have unbridgeable differences with the ‘Centre’. These emerging racial demarcations will create new racial minorities within each province/region. Or worse still, it can create mono-ethnic enclaves!

A solution Sri Lankans need, not what India, our donors, the EU or the Tamil Diaspora need Some are trying to find a solution to appease India, the EU and/or the Tamil Diaspora! This is ridiculous and obviously cannot amass people’s support. On top of that they have their own little agendas.

The Indian intervention, the Liam-Fox agreement, the Nordic ‘facilitation’ which was much more than mere facilitation, the 2002 Donor conference and resultant pledges, the aid sharing scheme codenamed P-TOMS which was a requirement of foreign donors and many other similar attempts ended up in utter disaster. Why? That’s because these initiatives forgot the most important stakeholder - the people of this country!

The solution should not only be for the Tamils. It should have tangible benefits for people of all races. Otherwise there is no logical reason why Sinhalese and Muslims should support such a solution! The basic premise of reciprocation must follow. The primary aim of the solution should be to create a peaceful Sri Lanka; not about satisfying Tamil (or Sinhala or Muslim) aspirations per se (although it is also a requirement).

Different solutions

Sharing and power sharing are no doubt at the centre of a good, innovative political solution. There was a unique form of co-operation between decision-makers of all races in the 1965-1970 government. It was not brought about by devolution. It was simply sharing political power without racial considerations. The trend continued with lesser force in the 1970-77 government where a number of influential policymakers and regional leaders came from Tamil and Muslim communities.

These two examples hint at the existence of more practical and workable solutions that will not require duping the masses. One salient feature in both the examples is the non-existence of the “we-they” demarcation. Unfortunately devolution is based on a “we-they” demarcation.

President Premadasa also had a different vision and a different solution than devolution.

Why aren’t we take a look at these successes and many other avenues out there in addition to devolution?

Additionally there are many other things that can be done to enhance ethnic unity through sport, cultural, religious activities, community based programs, etc. Although both Sinhalese and Tamils go to the same church, Holy Masses are conducted separately. Similarly although both Sinhalese and Tamils worship at Kataragama (Kathirgamam), they have two separate sections within the premises of the temple. Why didn’t the ‘devalas’ within most Buddhist temples keep up with the times and why don’t most Hindus worship at these? Why do Sinhalese and Muslims watch Hindi, Sinhala, Tamil and English movies and Tamils only watch Tamil movies?

Don’t we have the ‘social infrastructure’ already in place to build on?

The bitter truth about this war

This war is not going to end anytime soon (and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to end it soon). It is a fact similar to the case of a virus attack on human tissue. There aren’t any medicines to cure most diseases caused by viruses; the body has to fight it out and recovery is slow. The war must be fought to a finish defeating the LTTE which may take a few years. However, finding the political solution and other initiatives for peace can proceed, subject to obvious exclusions. For instance, a permanent political solution is only possible when the whole island is under one administration. Another requirement is the presence of a reasonable degree of freedom (from terror and compulsion) in the society. Only then people are free to arrive at a proper solution. A solution that was prepared during war may not be suitable for peace times.

Those who propose political solutions for the war and those who envisage military solutions for peace are equally disillusioned. What is termed the ‘terrorist’ problem should be solved militarily and what is termed the ‘ethnic’ problem should have a political solution. One may argue that these two problems are interconnected. Obviously they are; and that is why the military solution and the political solution should also be interconnected and compatible.

(The Writer, Thomas Johnpulle , Econometrics Consultant. He can be reached at
- Sri Lanka Guardian