Keeping The PSC On Track

| by N Sathiya Moorthy

( July 8, 2013, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Whether or not the TNA joins the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on power-devolution, there is an absolute need to keep the discourse on track. The chances are that the proceedings could become a political slanging match of every conceivable and imaginative kind. PSC Chair and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva would require every skill and firmness in the trade if the PSC has to produce a package that aims at resolving the ethnic issue, and not encourage further dilution of the devolution package, among others.

The Opposition UNP has not announced its decision on joining the PSC. The JVP has decided to boycott it. The Government parties are a divided house, with conflicting voices emerging out of the edge of the SLFP leader of the ruling UPFA coalition. The temptation would be for every party and participant to use the PSC to address the whole nation, if not the rest of the world too. The only difference thus far between the APRC earlier and the PSC now is that the Government with cause and justification had kept the TNA out of the former. Without enough of both, the TNA has chosen to keep out of the latter.

Collective irresponsibility

For good measure President Mahinda Rajapaksa may have extended the olive branch to the TNA once more – not only in the form of PSC but content, too. He has said that the APRC Report would form the basis for the PSC discourse. It is anybody’s guess why the Government allowed differing and dissenting voices to emerge on the perceived agenda of the PSC.

The JHU ally in the Government, as is known, had begun it all by seeking an abrogation of 13-A. Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF said it would not allow Northern Provincial Council polls with 13-A in place.

Once again, all this exposed the ‘collective irresponsibility’ of the Cabinet part of the Executive Presidency form of government. Maybe, it has been President Rajapaksa’s style of functioning – to let differing voices emerge and be heard – before coming up with a decision. It could also be a healthy way, though in a very limited way, to have coalition partners have their say – or, to let off steam under the all-powerful scheme of the Executive Presidency.

Through his eight years in office, President Rajapaksa has failed to convince the national constituency and the international community, of the seriousness of his difficulties and the consequent sincerity of his purpose.

It owes also to the likes of the Defence Secretary going public, like the rest of ‘em all, on what otherwise sounds like his personal views – but is perceived to be that of his President-brother and/or the armed forces.

The likes of him too could and should go to the PSC or such other forums, if they feel strongly about ‘national interests’ and the concerns of the Sri Lankan State.

Due weightage

It is equally unfortunate that the critics of the Government, nearer home and afar, do not want to give due weightage to the freedom for opponents to 13-A annulment demands from within the Government coalition as they give the promoters of such demands. Whether it is 13-A or other issues, it is the critics from within the ruling SLFP-UPFA coalition, and not outside, who can thwart similar attempts, again coming from within another end of the ‘rainbow coalition’.

All of this goes only to prove the impossibility of heading and running such a coalition, which President Rajapaksa has been able to manage successfully through the strength of his personality and popular image. Political instability would have been the alternative.

Forced though by the coalition leadership in a way, the JVP’s exit from the first Rajapaksa Government would have led to an intended collapse at the height of the all-important ‘Eelam War IV’ but for a few shrewd political moves on his part.
Pitting Sarath Fonseka against him in the 2010 presidential polls was another such move, but popular mandate proved otherwise.

Do unto others…

The TNA too cannot escape blame and responsibility. Throughout the post-war, post-LTTE talks with the Government, the party had wanted the APRC Report and four others before it to form the basis for the PSC.

The APRC having considered the earlier Reports, the TNA should have given President Rajapaksa’s commitment to be tested in the PSC first, and on the floor of Parliament, later.

The TNA and the Tamils at large, both inside and outside the country, too should do unto the Sinhala-nationalist concerns what they preach as wanting the other to do unto the self.

If the TNA does not join the PSC, it would be seen, and have to be seen that the party has begun campaigning for the Northern Provincial polls before it had been notified.

Ahead of the Eastern PSC polls last year, the party had pulled out the re-merger issue after a time.
The results showed that the East may not after all want the merger, if one were to transpose demographic realities into possible policies of the contesting parties.

Like the Government, the TNA has been taking one step forward at every turn only to take two steps backwards.
The Batticaloa rally of the ITAK major within the TNA, for instance, rubbed off the larger acceptance levels of the TNA in the country, obtained through the simple act of their combined leader, R Sampanthan, waving the national flag at a UNP-organised ‘May Day’ rally in northern Jaffna last year.

On a related issue, the TNA will have to convince the ‘Sinhala nationalist polity’ and the Sinhala people at large that they are still not wedded to the LTTE’s ways of ‘branding’ fellow-Tamils – ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’. While most sections of the TNA, including sections of the most moderate ITAK leadership, have a militant past, they have conveyed the impression that those baptized by the LTTE during its time alone are good Tamils.

That way, the likes of Karuna, KP and Daya Master, whether ex-militants or their collaborators of some kind, have become untouchables for the TNA the minute they identified with the Government.
It may be interesting to know the TNA’s reaction if the likes of them end up joining one of those friendly parties like the UNP after being ‘reformed’ in military-run camps.

So much for the TNA and the Diaspora crying foul over the Government purportedly and ‘purposefully’ detaining so many ex-LTTE militants in army camps for re-education aimed at social and vocational rehabilitation.

Politically, the TNA would not have them, nor would it accept any of them joining any other political party adopting moderate methods as against their militant past.

It has only whipped up suspicions in the ‘Sinhala nationalist’ mindset that all is not well with the TNA even in the post-LTTE era.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: (