Header Ads

 New website available at www.slguardian.org

There’s pussy-footing galore around the TNA ‘ultimatum’

by Malinda Seneviratne

(August 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) gave the Government a deadline to respond to three specific issues: (1) The structure of governance (2) The division of subjects and functions between the centre and the devolved units and (3) Fiscal and financial powers. The Government refused, point blank, claiming that solutions for a decades long problem cannot be found in 10 days.

I believe that the TNA was not out of order in setting a deadline. After all, these are issues that were raised long before this deadline was set and moreover have been articulated one way or another by various Tamil representatives (armed and otherwise) for years and years, decades upon decades. Successive governments, perhaps eyeing the Tamil vote, have pussy-footed around these issues, balking at commitment one way or another and in this and other ways giving an unintended fillip to Tamil communalism that harps on non-existent grievances and aspirations that are politically unfeasible.

The TNA is without doubt the political heir to the Eelam project blueprinted by the like of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and G.G. Ponnambalam and blood-marked by the terrorism of VelupillaiPrabhakaran. This does not mean that the TNA can’t ask questions or demand responses, especially when the Government invites it to discussions on issues pertaining to Tamils. In this sense, it is silly to say that the TNA ought to have chosen a better time to make such demands, for example during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure when ‘there was a relative (greater?) strategic balance’ as Dayan Jayatilleka argues (‘Breaking the deadlock; avoiding a breakdown’, Daily Mirror, August 9, 2011).

There is a thing called ‘appropriate political moment’, yes, but that does not mean there are auspicious and inauspicious times to ask questions or that the questions themselves are somehow invalid if the time’s not right. After saying that the TNA is the weaker negotiating partner, Dayan uses the word ‘deadlock’. If there is the imbalance he rightfully claims there is, then there’s no deadlock. The stronger party can say ‘stuff it’. It has, by the way. Still, the questions remain ‘on the table’ so to speak, as they have for decades.

Dayan says that ‘reconciliation’ should be incremental. That’s logical. In fact ‘incremental’ was the original strategy of the Eelamists; Chelvanayakam said for example, ‘A little now, more later’. Dayan seems to conflate ‘reconciliation’ with ‘Eelam-end’, knowingly or unknowingly. Indeed, the rest of the article is a virtual blueprint to get to this ‘end’.

He points out that war-end can result in major constitutional change, but that this is not always necessitated. Sri Lanka doesn’t need major constitutional change, he claims. Well, that’s his opinion, but if democracy, good governance, insulation of the people from politician etc., are important, then we do need major constitutional reform. Only someone who is ok with constitutional dictatorship or constitutional feudalism (the terms applicable to various post-1978 regimes) could argue otherwise.

Having fixed the ‘as is’ of the constitution, it is logical to demand full implementation. Dayan does this and adds for good measure that the vanquishing of the LTTE had made this possible. Correct. The problem is that he is focusing on the 13th Amendment to the constitution, an illegal piece of legislation authored to sort out misnamed and misarticulated grievances, and moreover almost of lynchpin significance to the furtherance of the separatist project. Interestingly, many argued that its ‘full implementation’ was the one and only way of undermining the LTTE, but that’s an aside as far as this article is concerned.

Perhaps aware of the problematic circumstances of its birthing, Dayan weaves a neat argument for the implementation of the 13th Amendment. This is what he says:

‘Our history is not solely that which is purely indigenous. It is the product of the interaction of the external and the internal; the synthesis of the dialectical interaction of us and the other. No provision of Sri Lanka’s Constitution should be repudiated on the basis that it was not wholly indigenous, any more than electoral democracy, the multiparty system, the legal system and much of our democratic rights and structures should be swept aside because they are of external provenance.’

He is absolutely right here. On the other hand, it does not follow that all things externally wrought should be embraced uncritically or as being ‘good’. If it works, yes, but if it does not and if it further exacerbates existing problems, then no. The dialectics of interaction involves on occasion, contestation and resistance. Circumstances change. Back in 1987, a weak government that was unpopular had no option but to let the dialectic interaction dissolve into abject surrender. This is 2011. The circumstances are different and Sri Lanka, as a nation, can not only resist but revisit a blunder and make necessary corrections. Dayan won’t dare displease his Indian masters by saying all this, hiding behind vague terms such as ‘dialectic interaction’ and ‘geopolitical reality’ instead of saying aloud ‘Indian thuggery’. That’s his prerogative but he can’t expect the entire country to purchase such shameless servility of the intellect.

Dayan introduces a caveat (‘any modifications in one or another direction must be balanced and mutually agreed upon compromises’) and a warning (‘any opening up of fundamental questions, of the sort contained in the TNA’s triple query, at this stage, can lead to the kind of unraveling that was prefigured by the Supreme Court decision on the merger’). The first is logical, in terms of the process of constitutional amendment, and the second is just fear-mongering.

Ignored in the lengthy piece are the legitimacy of the TNA’s query and the scandalous refusal of the Government to question the basis of the query. The questions posed are founded on a particular set of assumptions that do not stand inquiry in relation to history, demography and geography, not forgetting of course political ‘do-ability’ and indeed the political risk for the regime.

The 13th Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, amounts (in this time of Eelamists being in reduced circumstances) to fixing Eelam boundaries. And, even if the TNA had history, geography and demography on its side as well as some kind of economic logic that shows devolution would make for better development-distribution, then the 13th has to be accompanied by extensive amendment to the constitution with respect to curtailing the powers of the executive presidency.

Dayan is a political scientist by training. He cannot be ignorant about this. Why then is he pushing for the 13th ? I have to conclude that while he was against the LTTE and terrorism and fought valiantly on many forums in this regard, he is an unabashed supporter or pawn of separatism, whose current ‘incremental’ is the fixing of Eelam boundaries.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer (www.malindawords.blogspot.com)

Tell a Friend

No comments

Powered by Blogger.