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Friday, June 14, 2024

Is Constitution-making a Closed-end Process for Tamils? Ratnavel Challenges Sampanthan

By . K.S. Ratnavel

Attorney at Law K.S. Ratnavel

We have read a plethora of reports appearing in the media on the shape and scope of the proposed new Constitution. The views expressed on the substance of the draft constitution by sections of the public, including the outlandish statement by a group of Buddhist organizations represent their personal or collective opinion or proposals. Aside, we may ignore the racist ranting by certain groups of freaks such as BBS and ESMP.

However, when the government’s ministers and its accredited appointees who are involved in the process comment on substantive provisions of the proposed constitution, they represent the authentic, official version. Sadly, some of them have betrayed their innate prejudices and have freaked out. Their flippant attitude and outrageous statements effectively foreclose any hope that the Tamil people may have nursed in remedying their legitimate grievances through constitutional reforms. Separation is no longer an issue now. It is as dead as a dodo. What baffles us is that the government appears to have arbitrarily predetermined the parameters of the rights of Tamil people under the new constitution.

The Prime Minister has appointed a 24-Member Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PRCCR), chaired by senior Attorney Mr. Lal Wijenayake, to hear public representations and to submit its report and recommendations to the Cabinet for consideration. He has started off on an ominous note defining the limits of Tamil people’s options vis-à-vis units of devolution. Autonomy , devolution of powers and decentralization have been the substratum of Tamil demands for over sixty years, as evidenced by Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact (1957), Dudley-Chelva pact (1965), Indo-Sri Lanka Accord (1987). Pre-empting the process and even before hearing their views,

Mr. Wijenayake wants the Tamils to compromise and, in the same breath, castigates as extremists, those who may submit proposals for greater autonomy such as Federal form. If unitary structure is non-negotiable, what the government says, in effect, is :“Only thus far and no further” Then, what is the purpose of a “PRCCR ” to canvass public opinion? To quote Mr. Wijenayake:

“ In my personal opinion, the moderate Tamils are willing to compromise, and it is only the Tamil extremists who seek to challenge the unitary state”.
(per Ceylon Today, 2nd Jan. 2016). Why has he conveyed a personal opinion which is incongruous with the public role assigned to him? Coming from the ”pristine Left” stalwart, it is both disheartening and disappointing to say the least.

Public statements coming from Ministers suggest that constitution-making is not proceeding with an open mind. Cabinet Minister Mr. Lakshman Kiriella asserts the government will retain the current unitary system and the foremost status of Buddhism guaranteed by the present constitution.(Daily Mirror, 11 Jan. 2016). Another Minister Mr. Champika Ranawaka swears to defend Buddhism’s foremost place and the current unitary status (Daily Mirror, 7th Jan. 2016)..Deputy Minister Ajith Perera reiterates the government resolve to keep the unitary status and to deny a merger of the North-East Provinces.(Island, 4th Jan. 2016).

Not to be outdone by his rivals in proclaiming his patriotism, our “national leader” Mr. Rajapakse (as certified by Mr.Sampanthan) has trashed the Indian model of devolution, with Police powers, as unsuitable for a small country like Sri Lanka. It is a pity that the ex-President has not shared his expertise with us and told us precisely how large a country should be to devolve powers to the regions.

Post-war posturing by the majoritarian rulers in Sri Lanka reminds us of the intransigent attitude of the Bourbon kings who returned to power in France after the French Revolution and at the end of Napoleanic wars. French statesman Talleyrand described their attitude saying, “They had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing”. The description aptly fits the mental makeup of the Sinhala leaders..

To our dismay, TNA leader Mr. Sampanthan has not reacted to the negative noises from the Southern leaders. His silence is deafening. Neither has his swanky sidekick said anything. Addressing the Parliament on the resolution on the Constitution, the TNA leader has not uttered a word about the distinct demands of the Tamil people of North-East, such as autonomy, devolution of powers etc. which are essential elements relevant to constitution-making and which have been mandated by the Tamil people at successive elections, post-war and pre-war. Is it not intriguing that the TNA has not yet spelt out in specific terms what their proposals are? TNA leader had repeated ad nauseam, that he wanted “a reasonable, durable and acceptable solution within a united, undivided Sri Lanka.” Acceptable to whom Mr. Sampanthan?


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