Who should decide on the 13th Amendment ?

| by Chandre Dharmawardana

( June 1, 2013, Ottawa, Sri Lanka Guardian) A seemingly democratic-looking statement, popular with the liberal-minded types like the candle-vigil people of Colombo is the proposition, "It is up to them, and not to us, to decide what the scope of the 13th amendment should be. Who are we to impose our will on them?

If the TNA is representative of the Tamils, then we know that they have always officially rejected the 13th amendment in any form. They have merely found it useful as a bone of contention. Last year at the party session in Batticaloa (Madakalapuwa) Mr. Sampathan rejected it. Here is Mr. Mavai Senathiraja again rejecting it again, as reported in news media (e.g., the Daily Mirror, 31st May 2013). Mr. Sumanthiran has rejected it in several well-known statements. The LTTE fought against the Indian Peace keeping forces sent to enforce the 13th amendment. It was the Indians, and not 'us' or 'them' who formulated and decided in favour of the 13th. No referendum on the question was ever held to ask Sri Lankans for their vote.

Who gets to decide?

So, the criterion "it is they, and not we who should decide" leads to no support for the 13-th amendment in any form. However, the left-over leftist activists (Tissa Vitharana, Dew Gunasekera, Vasudeva nanayakkara, Dayn Jayatillke et al) have themselves unilaterally decided for the Tamils and are strongly pushing for the 13-th amendment together with police and land powers. The learned lawyers of the LLRC, drawn heavily from the candle people of Colombo also hold similar views, although their mandate forbade them to deal with constitutional matters. If the North decides to also have army, navy and air powers, then by the same logic 'liberal-minded people' should be supportive of it too. In effect, the explicit logic goes that any group should have the capacity for `self-determination'. Following this, writers like Wickremabahu Karunaratne and Kumar David had no difficulty in supporting the LTTE even at its most gory days of carnage.

Further more, when it is asserted that "It is they and NOT we who should decide", how do we decide who is grouped with "we", and who is grouped with "them"?

Take some one like Mr. Sumanthiran. He went to school in Colombo from his young days, and was in the same class as one of my young relatives. Sumanthiran ended up in the law school and practices law in Colombo. He lives in Colombo, just like my relative. How does Sumanthiran become a member of the 'they' while my relative becomes excluded from the `they' and get included in the `we'? This seems to be a racist decision.

In fact, there is no "they" and "we". All of us are in the same boat.

Furthermore, according to Jaffna custom, you cannot even sell your own property without the concurrence of your neighbours. That is the essence of the Thesavalam law. So, the North cannot do anything without the consent of the Mannar (Mannnarama), Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Trincomallee (Gokanna) regional administrations. They too have a stake in the final outcome, and they too get to decide. The North is populated by about 5% of the country's demographic, producing no revenue for at least a generation, but costing the south immensly in money, life and limb. And yet, all the development money comes from the south. Furthermore, electric power and other resources come from, e.g., the hydro-stations and in the hill country. Hence all parts of the country are stake holders and they too need to have a say.

This is why the simplistic "they, and not we should decide" becomes faulty.
We live in an interconnected world where we need to co-exist. It may seem as if Tissa, Dew, Vasu and other leftover-leftists have attempted to simplify matters to a 'yes or no formula' involving two sides, and politics is just too complex for that. This was also the problem with the 'workers versus capitalists' interpretation of history -- radically too simplistic.

Samasamajist policy of Parity for Sinhala and Tamil

The current politics of the left-over left has to be understood as a historical evolution from the 1960s-LSSP policy of parity for Sinhala and Tamil (although some theoreticians like V. Karalasingham argued for more Sinhala for the Tamils as well as greater sensitivity to the nationalist-awakening of the South). Many young idealists at the time viewed the parity proposal as a remarkably generous 'principled gesture' . The Sinhala nationalists pointed out that it was utterly unfair for a mere 10-12% to impose itself on the remaining 90-88% of the population, requiring costly parallel administrations in two languages.

However, the appearance of bending-over-backwards to be fair to a minority disappeared when the real-politik of the decision was understood in detail. The Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) was the basis of the leftist struggle, while the left also hoped to capture the Tamil-speaking plantation-workers sector. The power of the Jaffna English-school system was such that the GCSU had a much higher Tamil demographic than the 10-12% national voter base. It was essential for the LSSP to adopt the Sinhala-Tamil parity policy if they were to hold the GCSU and woo the plantations. Although the policy of linguistic parity was electorally suicidal, elections were deemed to be secondary in a revolutionary agenda. The left leaders believed that the populist SLFP was just the `Menshevik stage', to be followed by the Marxists capturing power as a historical necessity, a la Marx and Giorgi Plekhanov.

The realization that the much-hyped 'principled stand on parity' taken by the left leaders was a political pretence similar to the ITAK's claim to be a 'federal party' was utterly disillusioning to many young soft-socialists. Nevertheless, the rhetoric that the sinhala-only policy will pave the way to two-nations had been ingrained in the thinking of most people - especially the candle people of Colombo. Thus we see that even the learned body of lawyers who comprised the LLRC naively concluded that the fundamental reason for ethnic strife is the `denial of language and other rights of the minorities'.

The more fundamental reasons for communal strife, starting from the time of the Donoughmore constitution have been ably documented by the British historian Jane Russell. K. M. de Silva, Michael Roberts, Gerald Peiris and other learned writers have provided enough material to avoid the simple pit falls. The control of land ownership by a small upper class of Tamils living in Colombo, preferential politics of colonial administrations, continued enjoyment of caste privileges without interference from a central administration etc., demand for an equal role carved out on a racial basis (even though the Tamils formed only 10-15% of the population) were central to the origins of the strife going back to the 1930s.

The Tamil dissident writer Sebastian Rasalingam has been a vocal critic of the simplistic view where Tamil Terrorism is regarded as resulting from language legislation and majoritarian hegemony. He argues that ethnic polarization was deliberately promoted by the ITAK with its sovereignty agenda, right from the 1949 Maradana declaration. Vaddukkodai (called Batakotte even in 1900) was the venu of a declaration affirming the ITAK-Arasu policy by even the Colombo Tamils who were previously closer to the old UNP. The caste-based hierarchical structure of Tamil society that demanded obedience from the lower strata was central to the success of the Tigers. Many of Rasalingam's writings have been collected together and may be found at http://dh-web.org/place.names/rasalingam/.

In 1964 the LSSP leadership changed its tactics, abandoned the revolutionary path and joined the SLFP, now alienating the hard-socialists who broke away. The English-educated Colombo leftists could find no dialogue with the naive Sinhala revolutionaries of the JVP. They continued to believe in the earlier LSSP claim that the `denial of language rights of the Tamils' to be the main cause of civil strife in Sri Lanka. Thus historically, the candle people of Colombo and the left-over leftists ended up in supporting devolution via the 13th amendment, while even the TNA does not support the ill-numbered amendment. Some leftist ministers like Vasudeva Nanayakkara have taken upon themselves to push for a tri-lingual Sri Lanka, forgetting the failure of the bilingual policy of the old LSSP, with `parity for Sinhala and Tamil'.

As we have argued elsewhere, there are simple technological or organizational solutions for cutting these political Gordian knots regarding language. The internet now enables anyone to have instant translations of normal conversation (but not poetry !) carried out in one language to be rendered in another language. Thus a Tamil seller of onions living in Jaffna can speak in Tamil to a Sinhalese buyer in Colombo who hears a good translated version in Sinhala, while storing the original message in the memory of the cell phone for reference. The technology is easy, inexpensive and practical. No one is forced to learn any new language. No devolution is necessary in Lanka which is a tiny patch of the global village which now extends into outer space, with space stations and a slew of earth satellites that we constantly link with, via our cell phones, GPS, facebook, twitter and other social media. Given a bullet train like in Japan, and a fast highway complementing A9, Jaffna would become the Aluth- Wellawatta (Puthu-Vellavattai), a new suburb of Colombo!

The 13th amendment belongs to the stone age before communications moved to the 21st century.
Who should decide on the 13th Amendment ? Who should decide on the 13th Amendment ? Reviewed by Sri Lanka Guardian on 21:03 Rating: 5
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