Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne
The cry for devolution is not a new phenomenon to Lanka. In ancient times too, Lanka was divided into three provinces though it was united under one umbrella. With the rise of Lankan bourgeoisie the federal idea was originated among the Sinhalese. In 1925 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was prepared to come out with that suggestion. The young Bandaranaike was a brilliant student of Oxford; he returned to the island in 1925 with a firm resolution to serve his motherland as a national liberal politician. In the same year he founded a political party known as ‘Progressive National Party’ to achieve national emancipation. He was the leader of that Party while the Secretary was C. Ponnambalam.
At that time, most of the Tamil leaders preferred a unitary system of government to that of a federal form. While the Sinhala leaders propagated the concept of a federal formula the Tamils strongly opposed it. The latter wanted a balanced representation on the basis of communal interests within a unitary state. In that manner they expected to counter the Sinhala majoritist tendency in the state assembly.
Today, the irony is that the Tamils want self-rule for the Tamil homeland in the NE while the Sinhala chauvinists arouse the suspicion that federation may be a ploy to separation. In these circumstances the national problem must be resolved by ‘unity with power-sharing’ that could satisfy the suffering Tamil people, while defeating the chauvinist Sinhala elements. It is interesting to note that despite the political trend of that time, Bandaranaike introduced the federal concept for the first time into the mainstream of political life of Lanka.
He stated emphatically in the Constitution of the Progressive National Party, that the only solution to the problem would be the adoption of a federal system of government. He further declared that -“the majority of us feel that in view of the local conditions, particularly racial differences, the most satisfactory method to minimize and gradually remove such differences is a federal system of Government. Such a system of Government has in other countries particularly in Switzerland, tended national unity. We feel that the present arrangements of nine provinces should remain and be the basis of the Federal System”. Unfortunately he later aroused the very forces he feared would cause difficulties. Today, President Mahinda has to control the new generation of these trouble makers.
Global powers including India want the government to hold Northern Provincial Council elections according to the present Constitution and they dismiss any support to reducing powers of the PC setup. Holding elections, it is generally assumed, has to be done before the Commonwealth Conference. The President cannot postpone elections and hold the Commonwealth Conference. Already steps have been taken to reduce high security zones and to hand over agricultural land to Tamil claimers.
Weerawansa and the JHU will have to be satisfied with gimmicks within the Parliament. They will avoid mixing with JVP campaigns in the streets. India with Global powers will use the conference to press for complete implementation of the LLRC recommendations. Indian leaders cannot give any more concessions to Mahinda and lose their vote base in southern India. On the other hand if Mahinda does not comply with the request of global powers then they may use instruments of destabilisation against his regime. They will of course argue that some international pressure is necessary to resolve the national problem in Lanka. First they supported and promoted the war against the Tamil rebels, now they demand implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
If the Northern Provincial Council elections are held then the TNA is sure to win, provided it contests as an anti government united front. Will that anger the Sinhala chauvinists and will they create trouble in the south?
So far the government has taken no action against chauvinist trouble makers; but the state cannot allow communal unrest to develop without taking steps to arrest such forces.