By John Amaratunga M.P.
We are at a decisive moment in our country’s history with either to move forward with a new resolve and vision for peace and prosperity or go back to that dark chapter in our recent history.
The concerned citizenry of the country are looking up to the Government to lead a political process, with due urgency, pursued with genuine commitment and good faith that will lead to sustainable peace and security for all in the post conflict environment.
A process that involves a political settlement of a rational and realistic devolution requiring widest possible political consensus that should not advantage or disadvantage any ethnic community, unconditionally within the parameters of a united, single, indivisible Sri Lanka our motherland. The Government clearly looks to be dragging its feet to the reality and sending out wrong signals with uncalled for pre-mature dissolutions and calling for fresh elections to three Provincial Councils including the Eastern Province.
An Election to the North the epicenter of the ethnic crisis is ignored although the Government claims 95% have been resettled. Incomplete humanitarian demining in Jaffna is an invalid excuse, as demining is still in progress in the Eastern Province where elections are held.
With envisaged good governance still a blurred vision the question arises on the road map for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. With so much sacrificed during the long ethnic conflict we cannot go back to square one. To understand the gravity of the underlining issues a background knowledge in recent history becomes pertinent. Let us briefly recap the sequence of landmark events that led to the impasse for a peaceful reconciliation of the ethnic issue and the rise of Tamil militancy.
In 1926 Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike forms the Progressive National Front propagating a form of Federalism but abandons it and in 1930 forms the Sinhala Maha Sabha. In 1944 Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam, an eminent lawyer, forms a Tamil political party under the banner Ceylon Tamil Congress. Appearing before the Soulbury Commission he argues for a system of parity representation in the State Council so that no single ethnic group could dominate others being apprehensive of the Sinhala majority. Aptly earns the name 50-50 Ponnambalam. The country gains independence in 1948 for which leaders of all communities struggles and braved a united front.
Mr. Chelvanayagam forms the Federal Party labeling themselves as Ilangai Thamil Arasu Katchchi. Bandaranaike leaves the UNP over Premiership tussle and forms the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1951. In 1955 Prime Minister Sir John Kotalawela on a visit to Jaffna declares at a Public Meeting that his UNP government would give equal status to both Sinhala and Tamil languages. Bandaranaike looses no time responding that only Sinhala should be the official language.
At the 1956 General Elections heavily backed by Sinhala Nationalist Groups he reduces the UNP to a mere eight seats in Parliament. In June 1956 he introduces the “Sinhala Only” Bill in Parliament. Federal Party members organize a symbolic peaceful sit- in protest on the Galle Face Green but are beaten blue and naked by an organized unruly Sinhala mob to the delight of some SLFP Members watching the fun from the steps of Parliament.
In August the Federal Party holds a National Convention in Trincomalee passing a Resolution demanding a Federal Constitution, parity for Sinhala and Tamil languages, end of colonization of Tamil areas and discriminatory recruitment policies in the Government Service and the repeal of the existing citizenship laws.
In the face of mounting protests Prime Minister Bandaranaike was prepared to make concessions on the use of the Tamil language which led to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1957 which was to provide autonomous Regional Councils with powers delegated from the Parliament. The United National Party vehemently oppose the Pact and later Buddhist Monks and extremist elements take to the streets in unruly protests. Mr. Bandaranaike wilts under pressure tearing up the Pact.
At the General Elections in 1965 the United National Party triumphs and Mr. Dudley Senanayake sans a working majority is forced to form a national government with the support of the Federal Party. Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact took shape providing for the creation of District Councils in the Tamil areas. The SLFP together with the left parties opposed the Pact taking to the streets and Mr. Dudley Senanayake like Mr. Bandaranaike succumbs to pressure and abrogates the Pact to the utter disappointment of the Tamil community once again.
At the General Election in 1970 SLFP-Left United Front Coalition under Mrs. Sirimvo Bandaranaike registered a resounding 2/3 majority victory. In 1972 she appointed a Constituent Assembly inviting all political parties to draw up a new Constitution which declared the country a Republic to be known as Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The new Constitution sanctified the Sinhala language with official status and very notably rights of minorities which were protected by the previous Soulbury Constitution removed with no provision anywhere in the Constitution to guarantee or safeguard minority rights. This results in all Tamil Parties including S. Thondaman’s Upcountry CWC forming the Tamil United Front who till then had distanced himself from Tamil politics of North and East. The new Constitution also spells the beginning of Tamil youth militancy.
In 1974 Jaffna hosts the Fourth International Tamil Conference on Literature and on the concluding day a large crowd attending the Conference is baton charged and tear gassed by the Police bringing the conference to a bloody and pre-mature end. In 1975 Mr. Chelvanayagam the Federal Party leader wins Kankesanthurai (KKS) by-election defeating the Government candidate with a thumping majority. On the 25th July chief Organizer of SLFP and Mayor of Jaffna Mr. Alfred Thuraiappa is shot dead beginning organized violence by Tamil militants.
In 1976 the Vaddukottai Resolution Meeting of the Tamil United Front is stormed by youth calling for a Separate State. Tamil United Front becomes Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). The 1977 General Elections gave UNP under Mr. J.R. Jayewardene a landslide four fifths majority win. TULF sweeps polls in the North and East and Mr. Amirthalingam is elected leader of the opposition giving an opportunity to protect the minority Tamil community and correct injustices and grievances they were suffering from, but thwarted by escalating violence by both militants and the Police and Army. In 1981 UNP creates District Development Councils with emphasis on Development with the District as the Devolution Unit. TULF wins DDCs in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Trincomalee but does not accept Chairmanships. DDCs hardly functioned in the North. Witnessing the manipulation of the entire election process the Tamil youth by now had lost all faith in gaining political power through Democratic Elections.
In July 1983 the killing of 13 soldiers by the militants in a landmine explosion sparks anti-Tamil riots in Colombo and in the South which took many innocent Tamil civilian lives and opened the door for Indian intervention for the first time. With TULF leaders fleeing to India LTTE was left in charge. India offers its good offices to solve the crisis as mediator and Mr. Parthasarthy personal envoy of Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi arrives in August 1983. Mr. J.R. Jayewardene was prepared to implement DDCs fully and was to be discussed at an All Parties Conference to be subsequently placed before Parliament. The Tamils were to give up the call for a Separate State.
Despite escalating violence the Conference continued throughout 1984. In 1984 October Mrs. Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Due to irreconcilable positions the All Party Conference was formally dissolved in December 1984. With the LTTE resistant to any negotiated settlement other than a roadmap directly or otherwise leading to a separate state all subsequent efforts for were doomed to failure. The LTTE in gratitude to his negotiated peace efforts killed perhaps their best Sinhala friend President Premadasa and nearly did the same to President Kumaratunga. Tragically no mediator really took the trouble for an in-depth study of the background and history of the conflict to understand the roots of the problem.
Root causes for the crisis have already been officially acknowledged as lessons learnt but it is common knowledge that causes are the polarized frustration of minority Tamil community with lost faith in the majority race Sinhalese, opportunistic and communal power games and failure of the Sinhala and Tamil leadership with no national vision for nation building. Tamils made to feel powerless to design their own destiny relegated to second class citizenry by course of events was the domino factor to the crisis. Power sharing is the logical answer.
We Need new thinking and a fresh approach to a devolution which has to be strongly development oriented within which other important issues have to be addressed. The word Devolution is still an anathema to some. In fact Devolution has a longer history than centralized government which is a colonial heritage. We have had large divisions of the country under Raja Rata, Ruhunu Rata and Maya Rata. Kandyans claimed special position under the Donoughmore Constitution by virtue of the 1815 Treaty with the British. And even suggested that the island be divided into three self-governing areas.
The fruits of devolution should touch all people in the country politically, socially and economically, and not specific to any community or area or to appease a third party. The Provincial Council system clearly was an enforced political solution solely intended for self determination of the Tamil people in the North and East. Very obviously without careful review with modifications and safeguards PCs in its full implementation could become cancerous to our National sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the situation is now different to that under which it was introduced. What the country needs is a rational and realistic devolution promoting “oneness and brotherhood’. LLRC guidelines which are well received should be the base for any ultimate devolution package to be reached by consensus to which the entire political spectrum of the country will certainly lend its support.