A military pathway to nation building

The leaders of the Tamil community and the left movement, who had joined the governments of UNP and SLFP since independence had helped the leaders of these two parties to bring this country to the present catastrophe – war and more war.

The Tamil leaders in the first two cabinets supported the Citizenship and the Franchise Acts of 1948-49 which excluded the Tamils of recent Indian origin from the Sri Lankan nationhood. In 1967 when the Dudley Senanayake government abandoned the District Council proposal which was to provide a limited autonomy to the North-East provinces, the Tamil Congress stayed with the government and the Federal party continued the support they extended to the government in the beginning though the party advised its minister to resign.

The country’s left did almost the same when they found comfort in ministerial appointments in the 70s. They helped the SLFP leaders to establish an ethnic dominance system through the constitution of 1972, which incorporated the Sinhala only policy and other majoritarian elements, which were not accepted by them in the 1950s, when they followed the policy of “Two Languages and One Country” – one of the finest forecasts we ever had in Sri Lanka. Both the Tamil and the Left parties betrayed the principles they cherished and the interests of the community or the social groups they represented, when they associated with the SLFP and the UNP governments. Same thing is continuing today.

What Minister Tissa Witharana did with the interim proposal of the APC was following the foot steps of his predecessors in the LSSP. During the last twenty years the 13th amendment has proved that it cannot devolve powers to the provinces. The legal, administrative and fiscal tensions prevailing in the provincial administrations are well documented now. The functions assigned to the provinces such as education, health services, agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry, live stock development etc. have become meaningless due to legal and financial constrains imposed by the 13th amendment it self. The 13th Amendment is a mockery to democratic devolution. The Provincial Councils (PCs) were instrumental in strengthening the grip of the Central government over the Provincial populations through the political men and women hand picked for the positions in the PCs by the party leaders or the Executive President. The PCs have become agents of the Centre. The daily feature in the PC system is re-centralization not decentralization. Finally the Presidency which has gradually established an autocratic rule over all the other institutions in the state is now well in control in the Provincial administration through the administrative arm controlled by the Governor and the Chief Secretary both of whom are Presidential appointees.

Therefore the result of the implementation of Witharana proposal would be giving “some more legal powers (not practical powers) to the President’s own men and women already at the apex of the PCs”. In the North-East, it would be “powers to the Chairperson appointed to the Northern Interim Council by the President and the victor in the election to be held in the Eastern Province”, which is now opened for the new breed of Tamil politicians who are contesting for votes publicly wavering guns in their arms (with a coalition agreement with the governing party). In view of the precarious situation prevailing and developing in the North-East one could easily visualize what would happen to the troubled North-East as a result of the proposal – “full implementation of the 13th amendment” – the interim proposal submitted by the Presidential trouble shooter.

Why President Rajapaksa who boycotted PCs in 1988 and came to power with a big noise on “protecting unitary state” in his third year in power jumped into the 13th amendment bandwagon now? To me in 1987 the 13th Amendment brought us not a political solution but a military solution. It was just an addendum to the military action agreed upon by the two leaders who signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Many have forgotten the fact that the 13th amendment facilitated a justification for the arrival of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987. It provided a political justification for the Indian government to send its armies to Sri Lanka. The PCs was the “peace” the Indian Force tried to keep in the North-East during 1987-1991.

When India agreed to leave Sri Lanka with humiliation after its failure to tame the LTTE, Mr. Vardharajha Perumal, the Chief Minister of the Northern and Eastern Provincial council who was there to provide political support to the IPKF in the North-East, abdicated his authority and sought shelter in India. That marked the beginning of recentralization process. Just after that, the government of R. Premadasa decided to cancel its earlier decision to hand over the District Secretaries to the PCs. The next step was to bring back the Divisional Secretaries handed over to the PCs by the previous administration. The recentralization process which is continuing even today had entered the scene afterwards. After the political leadership abandoned the implementation of the Indo-Lanka accord, the task of carrying forward the PC system became the responsibility left to the administrative leaders in the PC system.

The PCs never received the money allocated in the national budget fully (this will explain if one goes through the annuals of the Central Bank or the data available with the Finance Commission). Every year the PCs lost millions of rupees due to the delay and non release of funds on time by the Treasury. The PCs were not provided even a legal draftsman to draft their statutes. The PCs do not have powers and finances to establish their own administrative arm. The tax base provided by the 13th amendment is not enough to manage their day to day affairs, let alone development. The PCs have to depend on the money provided by the Central government. As such the full implementation is not possible even the President used his executive authority. We know many schools and hospitals earlier handed over to the Provinces were returned to the government due to lack of funds by the PCs themselves. The existing PC system would collapse if the President agrees to hand over the police powers to them. The executive leadership is well aware of this situation.

So then why Tissa Witharana was asked to give his interim recommendation on 13th amendment? The answer lies not in the administrative landscape created by the 13th amendment. It lies in the domestic politico-military terrain and the strategic equations that are being developed in our immediate geo-political environment. I don’t want to go into a deeper analysis here but suffice to say that India and the US are working closely to develop a South Asian security plan vis-à-vis “international terrorism”. Such statements contained in the President’s independent day message, namely “…we are fighting against an internationally known terrorist organization” “our work is for the betterment of the entire world population” are not just casual selections. They reflect the mindset of a regime which is now entangled in a convoluted war situation as a corollary to the big promise given at election “defeat terrorism and protect the sovereignty of the country.”

As such the most immediate scenario that I could foresee would be the government establishing an anti-LTTE Tamil political leadership in the North and East to support its military programme that is already carrying out against the LTTE. The next scenario, if they had to dig deep into the war, would be inviting India to help us to quell the Tamil rebellion. However, the next time it would not be “just an invitation extended by the President himself”. The invitation would send to India with “an addendum provided by the two Tamil Chief Ministers in the North and East, asking India to help them to save Tamils in Sri Lanka from the LTTE”. My own reading of our Big Neighbour’s behaviour in our conflict system is that India would not come here unless the Western powers lend their full support to the Indian mission (ref; The Management of Ethnic Secessionist Conflict: the Big Neighbour Syndrome, Dartmouth, Aldershot, 1995).

With this prediction one would argue that our President has a well planned strategy against the LTTE. My question is whether emerging of these political scenarios are enough to solve the real issue that we are facing now? We students of politics know that the real issue that has been handling since 1980s by the Sri Lanka state is not terrorism. Terrorism represents an unreal issue. The real issue is “the way we have handled the post-independence the nation-(state) building process”. We have failed to build an accommodative state, effective in incorporating all constituent ethnic groups into the polity. During the first ten years of our independence our regimes engaged in wrong state craft. The need of the day was to develop a comprehensive approach to find answers to such questions as “Who are the nationals (citizens) of the state?” “Who are the electors of the state?” “What is the national flag?” “What is the national anthem?” “What is the national language?” All these policy issues were decided following the conceptions entrenched in the nationalist ideology of the majority nation disregarding the minority sensitivities. Finally the state identified its national personality with cultural attributes belong to the majority nation. When the Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972 with the inauguration of the first home made constitution, the state declared those cultural attributes as basic component of fundamental law. It was at this point the Tamil leaders who were so far agitating for a power sharing governmental framework had produced their own state project, the Tamil Eelam. [It was a carbon copy of the Sri Lanka state; another “unitary state” on this tiny Island, reflecting the ethnic hierarchy they have visualized for the Tamil portion of Eelam (Lanka)].

I do not totally reject the fact that some countries in the present world system have completed their nation building through military means. But those success cases had an accommodative democratic political agenda for nation building or re-nation building and, a political leadership which has the credentials for taking the moral high ground over the forces of disintegration (terrorism).

That is why we are asking from our political leaders to become such a moral and democratic alternative to terrorism and, bring forth an accommodative power sharing programme to encourage the minority population to abandon their secessionist political project and the undemocratic leadership. If the political leaders have the courage to do that, we need not bother about terrorism which does not have any support in the civilized world.

I earnestly believe that the political leaders in this country have acquired enough experience to understand the gravity of this problem. They know very well to answer questions such as “what is the problem?” and “what is the solution?” The problem is that they do not have political will to go for that.
Professor A.M. Navaratna-Bandara
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Peradeniya