By Dr.Rajasingham Narendran
In response to my comments on the article in’ “www.dbsjeyaraj.com” by S.Venkatanarayan titled, ‘Who says Sinhalese are against devolving powers to Tamils? That’s absolute rubbish! says Chandrika Kumaratunge, ‘Quaero’ asked the following questions.
After heavy rains in November 2011, the village of Thadduvankoddy in Kilinochchi district was cut off for several days-pic: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection
I think his/her questions merit an answer from my perspective and the questions and answers should be part of an independent article.
April 21, 2012 at 11:31 am
– Is Sri Lanka a country of two distinct ethnic communities, or not?
– Are Tamils equals to Sinhalese in Sri Lanka ?
– Will Tamils be able to hold on to their identity in the Sri Lanka ?
– What is the true meaning of ‘power sharing at the center’?
– How does one make ‘power sharing at the center’ practicable?
– Who will be ‘responsible’ for effecting ‘power sharing at the center’?
– Who will determine, and how do we agree on what needs to be shared, and not?
– How do we agree on that ‘power sharing at the center’ is the answer?
– What are the chances of reaching such a consent?
– What time frame are we looking at, to reach that understanding?
– What is the basis of your ‘realistic hope’?
– Is Sri Lanka a country of two distinct ethnic communities, or not?
No, Sri Lanka is a country with three large segments of people- Sinhalese (the majority with two subgroups- Low country and Kandyan), Tamils and Muslims (There are also smaller groups of other people).
A majority of Muslims also speak Tamil. The Sinhalese and ‘Sri Lankan’ Tamils are genetically very closely related. The plantation Tamils, who were brought in from India to work in the coffee, tea and rubber plantations are also citizens of Sri Lanka , comprise a significant percentage of the total Tamil population and are a different social and political grouping. There also Tamils who were brought in to work in the cinnamon plantations from South India , who have become Sinhalese now. Many Tamils who have lived on the Western coastal areas, have also become progressively Sinhalese with time. The political differences between the low-country and Kandyan Sinhalese have almost disappeared now.
The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims speak closely related languages, which share more than four thousand words and almost a similar grammar. The Tamils are mostly Hindu and the Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist. Hinduism and Buddhism are very closely related- a parent-child relationship- though distinct. Buddhists worship Hindu Gods and Hindus accept Lord Buddha as an avatar or saint. Muslims also live in scattered pockets among the Sinhalese in most parts of the island.
The problems in Sri Lanka cannot be viewed from only the Sinhala-Tamil angle while seeking solution. The solutions should seek to address issues in a broader manner, asking into account demographic realities.
- Are Tamils equals to Sinhalese in Sri Lanka?
Yes, in law. In practice, there may be problems with relation to safety and security issues, merit-based equal opportunities and the use of the Tamil language for official purposes outside the north and eastern provinces. Discrimination in development-related issues is being addressed now. There are also multi-faceted attempts to address the other lingering problems. Time-bound improvements are required in the problem areas.
- Will Tamils be able to hold on to their identity in Sri Lanka?
Definitely, yes. Tamils are holding onto their way of life, wherever they are living in Sri Lanka . Even in the midst war, those living outside the north and east did so. It is very unfortunate they do not interact much with the Sinhalese and Muslims at the social level.
The war has imposed a severe strain on Tamil culture in the north and east, due to heavy migration and war-related trauma. There are signs it is reviving. It is the Tamils who will ultimately determine whether their identity survives and improves to suit the times. Continuing to be Tamils, is the choice the Tamils must make and no one can make them do so, if they do not consent.
-What is the true meaning of ‘Power sharing at the centre’?
– Being part of political governance at the center, would involve having a meaningful presence in the cabinet, participating in cabinet-level decision making, having access to the corridors of power and even having Vice-Presidential positions, powers and duties allocated to members of the two major communities (of the three), that are not occupying the position of president. These should be elected positions and persons should contest for these positions along with the presidential candidates on one ticket. The modalities and details have to be worked out.
– Senate- an upper house elected on the basis of larger electorates- province or regions (like the US Senate, with equal allocation of seats irrespective of population densities). The Senate should have veto powers over legislation emanating from the parliament and only legislation approved by both houses and certified as being in accordance of the constitution by a Constitutional court, should receive presidential approval. The president should have well defined veto powers.
– Nominated cabinet- The president should have the prerogative to select his/her cabinet from eminent men/women in the country-at-large. This will open the way for a more balanced- nationally representative- and qualified cabinet. Anyone, from the parliament or senate, appointed to the cabinet, should cease to be a parliamentarian or senator. Details can be worked out. The present system of selecting the cabinet is a curse for the whole country.
– A constitutional court should be established to review new laws, constitutional
amendments and scrutinize old laws for constitutional acceptability.
– A committee system should be established within parliament to deal with issues connected with individual provinces or regions and make recommendations to the president.
These ideas can be further expanded, as deemed necessary.
-How does one make ‘Power sharing at the Centre’ practicable?
Through canvassing public opinion, educating the public on its merits and working through the proposed parliamentary Select Committee.
-Who will be ‘responsible’ for effecting ‘Power sharing at the center’?
The ‘Power Sharing’ arrangements have to be brought by constitutional changes. It is the Constitution , the constitutional court, the president and the chair persons of parliament and the senate, which / who will give effect to the power sharing arrangement.
-Who will determine and how do we agree on what needs to be shared or not?
Everything should be open for sharing. Matters relating to the whole island and those relating to the provinces/ regions should be open for sharing.
-How do we agree that ‘Power sharing at the centre’ is the answer?
Learn the lessons from the past, analyze past trends and study the present circumstances. Demands for devolution have not achieved anything and will not go any meaningful distance. The alternative is power-sharing, if we are to take advantage of current trends and thought processes. Sri Lanka has become a highly centralized state, despite the 13th amendment. Why not go with this trend and work out something that will produce end results for the people?
-What are the chances of reaching such a consent?
If I surmise that it is almost near zero for any meaningful devolution and its honest implementation, it would be more than 50% for the power sharing route and its successful implantation. These are fair odds, considering the circumstances.
-What time frame are we looking at, to reach that understanding?
A maximum of two to three years- well before the end of the current term of the president.
-What is the basis of your ‘realistic’ hope?
-The president is inclined towards a power-sharing solution and he wants ‘A’ solution. He has the majority in parliament to pull off this solution, without provoking the Sinhala nationalist and extremist elements in his coalition.
-The central government will exercise almost all power and Sri Lanka will remain united and unitary, while putting to rest the fear of separatism.
-The Sinhala public at large would also accept this as a good alternative to devolution. Without Sinhala support the devolution path will go nowhere.
-Devolution has become a dirty word to many Sinhalese and is the red flag for the Sinhala nationalists and extremists. This is a fact that should be accepted as a ground reality, even if it may appear irrational. The Eelam wars and how they ended have made what was irrational, quite rational now.
-It is less contentious and a less difficult path to take and can bring about the end results we desire for the wellbeing of the Tamils and other minorities.
-It would give the minorities and the Sinhalese living in the more remote provinces a feeling of being involved in national and their area affairs. This if explained to the Sinhala people would garner their support for power sharing. The present Provincial Councils have no meaningful impact on their lives.
Finally, an answer to the question you have not asked. The provisions relating to the Provincial Councils in the 13th amendment should be repealed and the Provincial Councils abolished. The PCs are sick joke and it will remain a joke despite any tinkering, because the GOSL and most Sinhala people have no need for them and have no stomach for them