Book Review : An unremitting search for a solution

"Sri Lanka’s National Question". A collection of articles by Neville Ladduwahetty. Publishers- Vijitha Yapa Publications. Pages 399.

By Chandra Wickramasinghe

(May 26, Singapore City, Sri Lanka Guardian) The author Neville Ladduwahetty, is no stranger to the wide newspaper readership in the country.He contributes regularly to the print media on matters of topical interest ranging from Minorities and Power sharing, to the infeasibility of a political solution based on devolution as spelt out in the 13th Amendment. This is the gravamen of his hypothesis which finds consistent adumbration in all the chapters in the book.More recently, he has been cogently drawing attention to the distinction between internal issues relating to human rights and humanitarian rules governing the conduct of international conflicts, citing extensively the relevant UN Protocols-viz. Article 3 of the International Humanitarian Law, Additional Protocol II of 1977, titled "Non-Intervention" and to certain provisions contained in the Treaty of Rome which identify what constitutes Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes,effectively rebutting thereby,any grounds for intervention of the UN in internal conflicts stemming from terrorism and insurgency as in the case of Sri Lanka, invoking the R2P provision. His recent articles, dealing with this particularly emotive issue,have not been included in the current publication and are likely to get into a subsequent volume. NL is an Engineer by profession who writes with a legalistic panache on complex constitutional issues, rare, even amongst the legal fraternity,as commented on by a Justice of the Supreme Court.

NL prefers to call the problem, Sri Lanka’s national question.An initial insight into his thinking is reflected in the introduction to the volume itself, where he states "There is a lack of agreement as to the causes of the national question within the Tamil community itself. While a section of the Tamil community, based mostly in the South, perceives discrimination as the primary cause, the Tamil community in the North consider such views to be "myopic and masochistic". The Tamil community in the North, by contrast, perceives the national question as arising from the "inalienable right of self-determination", and exclusive claims to "traditional homelands". The Tamil community in the South perceives such notions to be "archaic and redundant." These conflicting views have complicated attempts to reach a measured and reasoned resolution of the national question."

NL’s succinct conspectus of the differing perceptions that prevail within the Tamil community itself of the national question, is indicative of the complexity of the issue and the distinct approaches different sections of the Tamil community would wish to adopt in arriving at what they would look upon, as a reasonable solution.

I found the book compellingly readable as the writer covers a lot of ground dealing with the issues leading to the exacerbation of the problem with the enunciation of the ‘Thimpu principles’,which the writer points out, are expressions of an exclusivity,denied to other communities. He therefore asserts that the formation of "an all inclusive Sri Lankan constituency is possible only if and when the ‘Thimpu principles’ are abandoned". NL prepares the background of the reader with an exposition of the Tamil grievances, dealing with those that are uppermost in the minds of the Tamil people as constituting injustices inflicted on them by the majority community.These range from the issue of the rightful use of the Tamil language, to colonization of what are claimed by them as land belonging to Tamils.

In defining the issues involved, NL displays a delicate clarity which is devoid of prejudice and of any resultant irascibility and for that reason appeals to the reader to follow earnestly, the lines of reasoning of the author,with an open mind. Even on the highly acrimonious issue of ‘Homeland and Self-determination’, the debunking of the former claim by the writer with the hard logic of irrefutable reasoning, exposes the latter ‘aspiration’ as a hollow and irresponsible demand, totally lacking in any legal validity or moral propriety.

As one proceeds to read through the rivettingly absorbing analyses of the major issues involved, which are insightfully dealt with in six chapters, one gets the inescapable impression of the book being a collection of personal soundings of deep study and penetrative analyses, of the highly charged, sensitive issues, that veritably devastated the island for close on thirty years,almost blowing the country asunder. The author buttresses his arguments further by citing painstakingly researched and compiled parallels,precedents and concrete examples drawn from sources in the US,Western Europe and the UN. This makes the book an immensely valuable source of meticulously researched information to the academic, the serious student as well as the general reader, genuinely interested in acquainting himself with the political, cultural, religious and social nuances of a problem that has led to the concerned parties being compulsively drawn into an emotionally overwrought, long drawn out and bitterly contended conflict situation.

NL in the final analysis, puts forward as a viable basis for the political solution of the national issue, central power sharing, very specifically, on a non-territorial basis. This is, in the writer’s view, ‘the preferred alternative to devolution’. NL is clearly, a convinced advocate of the District being the more eminently suited unit of devolution for Sri Lanka, as against the Province. What he sees as the final ‘cutting edge’ that would assuage the Tamil minority and free their minds of the obsessional, gnawing problem of living with the bogey of ubiquitous discrimination and an anguished sense of injustice, is having in place power sharing mechanisms and institutional structures that would ensure that the overridingly equalizing principles of equity and justice for all, would be irrevocably enshrined in the Constitution and the laws of the land.

One unfailingly sees in the writer’s endeavours, an unremitting search for a solution, that would find acceptance by the majority as well as the minority, emerging in the form of a practical denouement of, what was considered at one stage to be a virtually intractable problem that has drenched the island in blood and brought in it’s train immense hardship,pain and misery to both the Sinhala and the Tamil people, who inhabit this beautiful island.

Neville L will be donating the proceeds from the sale of the book, to the Ranaviru Foundation.