Tamil Nadu, the Indian Model and devolution

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The devolution debate has been sharpened by the highly interesting and significant results of the public opinion poll recently conducted in Tamil Nadu, with regard to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue and its internal arrangements.

The poll has had the effect of strengthening both pro and anti-devolution camps in their chosen opinions.

Cover of Ananda Vikatan, Aug 8

I suggest that a realist reading should result in a more nuanced approach to devolution, which escapes the trap of overreaction in either direction, namely allergic rejection and imitative appeasement.

With or without the new data from Tamil Nadu, the debate on devolution in Sri Lanka reveals roughly seven and possibly eight points of view or "lines". These are:

1. Zero or small unit devolution: Abolition of the 13th amendment and Provincial Councils, replacement with District level devolution, if at all.

2. 13th amendment Minus or Provincial Councils Lite: Retention of Provincial Councils, but deduction or non-implementation of even those powers granted by the 13th amendment.

3. 13th amendment Classic: The full and speediest possible implementation of the existing 13th amendment, meaning the full devolution of those powers already granted by the 13th amendment.

4. 13th amendment Plus: the enhancement of the powers of the 13th amendment by relocating or partially redistributing the powers of the Concurrent list. This position subdivides between those who are willing to risk a constitutional amendment and those who seek only that which is possible without one.

5. The Indian model: quasi-federalism; powers no less than those of an Indian state.

6. Full or classic federalism.

7. ISGA/Confederation of two states.

8. No ethnic based federalism or two unit model; a radical reform of the state, citizenship and identity, reflecting hybridity, secularism and pluralism.

Positions 1-7 are present to varying degrees in the political domain, national and international (including the twin Diasporas) while the last arises from within the civil society intelligentsia (Prof Nira Wickremesingha in Open Democracy).

While administrative decentralisation is needed for purposes of development, devolution or transfer of some measure of power from centre to second order units at the periphery, is needed as a bridge between the North and South, the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

Therefore any and all devolution proposals must pass the test of enjoying the support of some segment of both communities. It must at the least, be at the interface of the two "sets", namely Sinhala and Tamil opinion.

No sustainable solution can be unilaterally imposed upon either the Sinhalese or the Tamils.

Positions 1 & 2 (abolish or weaken Provincial Councils) have no takers outside the Sinhala community, and therefore fails the test of acceptability by at least some Tamils.

The international and regional blowback of any such move (which would have many powerful opponents and no supporters whatsoever outside the island), would be disastrous for our military efforts and our overall stability and security.

Similarly, Positions 6 and 7 (federalism, con-federalism) have no takers among the Sinhalese, going by public opinion polls, the results of which, ranging from the 1997 polling by Research International Pvt Ltd, up to today’s CPA polls, have been remarkably consistent.

Position 5 that of Indian model quasi federalism, enjoys, according to the CPA (and much to its regret) 5% support among the majority Sinhala community— that’s 5% of 74%. No mainstream political party or candidate in a competitive electoral democracy (and that includes Senator Obama) would treat as anything other than radioactive, a position that was so hopelessly unpopular. And yet, otherwise sensible Tamil politicians expect the two main Southern parties to agree on this. If there were any such possibility, President Kumaratunga’s 1995and 1997 "union of regions" packages, or her admirable August 2000 draft Constitution would have obtained bipartisan support, instead of suffering the highly visible fates they did.

The new argument, basing itself on the Ananda Vikatan opinion poll, is that Sri Lanka can best protect itself from pro-Tamil Eelam sentiment by adopting the Indian model of quasi-federalism.

This argument runs up against several counter-considerations.

Firstly, by the same logic, Cuba can best protect itself from the extreme anti-Cuban Revolution sentiments of Florida—and by extension Washington DC, since Florida has a significant influence on American elections-- by adopting an economic and political model such as that which prevails in the USA. Any self –respecting Cuban, and there is an island full of them, would reject that argument with the contempt it deserves.

Secondly, by what logic do 50 million ethnic Tamils in Tamil Nadu and a tiny fraction of that number in Sri Lanka require the same quantum and therefore model of devolution?

Thirdly, by what measure is the opinion of the citizens of Tamil Nadu of greater validity with regard to the internal arrangements of Sri Lanka, than those of over 95 % of Sinhalese citizens of this country, comprising 74% of the population, who oppose Indian model quasi-federalism?

Fourthly, this pro-Tamil separatist opinion in Tamil Nadu is a news flash? It would not have been so to generations of Sinhalese going back millennia, into antiquity. The anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala sentiment in Tamil Nadu represents an existential threat of long historical duration, which we must permanently protect ourselves against.

The new polling data must neither be ignored and brushed aside as irrelevant, nor appeased by mimicry of models.

Many Tamil politicians and liberal commentators forget Sri Lanka’s bitter experience with the Vardharajaperumal administration (from which I had resigned a year before, alarmed at the trends behind the scene), which made an Unilateral Declaration of Independence but could not be instantly dissolved by the Government without first bringing amending legislation which mde that possible.

What is needed by way of response is neither a model that is so tightly closed and claustrophobic that it generates irredentist sentiment, nor one that is so carelessly open that it permits irredentism.

This brings us to positions 3, 4 and 8. The last is probably the most attractive but seems unrealistic at the moment. The lamentable fate of the Equal Rights Bill presented by President Kumaratunga in 2000, withdrawn in the face of agitation by alumni of certain leading (boys and girls) schools in Colombo and the JVP run Inter University Students and Bhikku Federations, shows how far we are from that level of enlightened consciousness. As Mr Anandasangaree correctly reminds us, the easy abolition of Section 29, the anti-discrimination clause of the Soulbury Constitution, gives the minorities no reason to trust a solution devoid of political space and some measure of self governance.

That leaves Positions 3 and 4: 13th amendment Classic and 13th amendment Plus.

Position 3 and possibly 4 are the only ones with significant support from the Sinhala public and some support from some Tamils (both North and East). Thus 13th amendment Classic passes the test. (Arguably, so does 4, but this is a stretch,).

Most recently at the SAARC summit, President Rajapakse has rightly re-iterated his government’s commitment to Position 3, "the comprehensive implementation of the 13th amendment", drawing attention to the Eastern process with its elected Chief Minister and expressing his belief that the Northern Province will similarly possess a Chief Minister. Given that the Sri Lankan armed forces have gained the strategic initiative and are on the strategic offensive, this is a prospect for the foreseeable future. In his remarks the President also left room for submissions by the APRC.

Recent retrospectives surrounding the Karadzic trial regarding the events in former Yugoslavia recall the disaster of the holding of a referendum in Bosnia in 1992, with the Serbs abstaining and the Bosnian Muslims voting in favour. This was the schism that resulted in civil war. Bosnia shows the absolute imperative on avoiding a referendum in an ethnically or ethno-religiously polarised society, and therefore the imperative of avoiding any proposals that require a referendum.

This is why the only man with a roadmap, Douglas Devananda, has embraced President Rajapakse’s "comprehensive implementation of the 13th amendment" as the only feasible start, while placing the 13th amendment Plus, and even consideration of the Indian model, as subsequent stages of political evolution. Between the various stages of his gradualist formula lie periods of the broadening of consensus and the building up of trust between the communities over time and through practical experience.

(These are the personal views of the writer)

Related: The Spectre of Dravidastan, by By R.Venugopal


This government official’s idiotic babble simply proves the mindset of an ethnic government as opposed to a “Sri Lankan” government.

“Fourthly, this pro-Tamil separatist opinion in Tamil Nadu is a news flash? It would not have been so to generations of Sinhalese going back millennia, into antiquity. The anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala sentiment in Tamil Nadu represents an existential threat of long historical duration, which we must permanently protect ourselves against.”

Anti-Sinhala sentiments in Tamil Nadu that extends to antiquity? You are either hopelessly ignorant or spreading ethnic hatred. Either way it is unacceptable statements coming form a government official. Where was this deep ethnic hatred when Sinhala kings sought Tamil royalty as brides throughout Sri Lankan history or when Tamil dynasties supported the rule of Sinhala kings? Of course there were some conflicts but those were not ethnic wars, rather wars fought for military and economic supremacy. The Sri Lankan government should be happy regarding Tamil Nadu’s status as an Indian state instead of a separate state and appease the sentiments of that particular state. This is simply because the LTTE is using TN as a base and if wide-spread anti-Sri Lankan sentiments develop in TN beyond some noisy politicians, India would most definitely get involved.

“The anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala sentiment in Tamil Nadu represents an existential threat of long historical duration, which we must permanently protect ourselves against.””
What are you trying to imply in the above quote? Instilling anti-Tamil sentiments in the minds of Sinhala masses has become the hallmark of Sri Lankan politicians who are ever self-serving. Tamils are not a threat to Sinhala people, nor are they in a position to threaten Sinhala dominance in Sri Lanka because Tamils are the oppressed minority who must bear the brunt of the human rights abuses by both SL armed forces and the LTTE.

Even the SL army commander has admitted that the LTTE insurgency will continue even if they lose all their real estate holdings. This is due to the continued oppression of Sri Lankan Tamils. Quite frankly, your government is a disgrace. This is evident through the continued blatant human rights abuses of both ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese, and the installation of a former-LTTE cadre as the eastern chief minister, a man who is himself accused of numerous human rights abuses. Please do not feed educated Tamils the lie that Pilliyan was democratically elected, because numerous observers pointed out the presence of armed TMVP cadres and the widespread use of threats. Its either federalism or separation, I assure you that your government’s refusal of federalism is only serving to drive moderate Tamils into the LTTE camps.

Posted by: N | August 11, 2008 12:12 AM

The Sinhalese and Tamils lived together long enough (50 years) to build trust among each other to foster a progressive society. The vihttp://federalidea.com/fi-mt/mt.fcgi?__mode=list_comments&blog_id=1sion Douglas Devananda envisions for the future should already be present. Unfortunately we know the folly of that thought.

The majority of Tamils just don't trust Sinhalese politicians to protect them any longer, either economically or politically. If there is an issue with what the majority Tamil view is, then a referendum among the Tamils would quickly quash any misunderstanding with regard to what we Tamils want. Fortunately, Kosovo has set a president where Tamils have a chance of calling their destiny. So in light of recent development in the global stage at least the Indian model of federalism moving to real federalism is in order. The majority Sinhalese view should not be an issue, until they have been flushed of all racist sentiments about all minorities. This can be done by years education into pluralism and tolerism. With racist views the Sinhalese cannot objectively decide the Tamil future in the land. Especially considering the Tamils are indigenous to the country.

Posted by: Mohan Rajendra | August 11, 2008 08:27 AM

why India still waiting? Why can't they speed up the process? There are more people are being killed every single day. Please do something quickly.

Posted by: Pratheep | August 11, 2008 09:06 AM


What you have written is only of academic interest!

All right thinking persons are worried about the deteriorating governance and the rule of law in Sri Lanka than any devolution debate or political solution.

Democracy has become a farce!

Why there should be any negotiation or discussion when even what was agreed and included in the Constitution is not implemented?

The APRC after years of discussion had recommended that the 13th amendment should be implemented.

Does this mean that the implementation of even the constitutional provisions are at the discretion of the government?
Even then the academics including Dayan are debating whether it is the13th Amendment minus or 13th Amendment or 13th Amendment plus!

How outrageous it is?

Then everybody claims that the language problem was resolved with the passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. But the government refuses to implement them.

This Amendment provides constitutional status to Tamil only as the language of Administration in the Eastern Province as well as in the Northern Province

But we need another war and another committee just to recommend for implementation.

Then How about 17th Amendment ? Was it passed unanimously in Parliament?

We have a select committee in Parliament to recommend implementation.

Violence is the only language Sri Lanka understand!

Democracy,Rule of Law and governance to be kept in a museum!

God help Sri Lanka! and in the meantime Let Dayan write articles after article and compile them into books and wins acclaim among academics!

Posted by: sri | August 11, 2008 09:12 AM

The war in the North East(NE) of the island acquired different names under different presidents. JR Jayawardene called it "the war against militants". The IPKF called it "the war against the rebels". Chandrika Kumaratunge called it "the war against separatists". Mahinda Rajapakse calls it "the war against the terrorists". Having exhausted all the names one president even called it "the war for peace !!.

Truly speaking by real definitions, the war during the past 25 years by the GOSL was against a liberation movement in the NE. A truth never uttered by any president !!

The conflict was camouflaged by different names at different times to misinform, stupidise and abuse the Sinhalese and the International Community. The deception also served to carry out and cover up Tamil rights violations of arbitrary arrests, torture, detention without trial, murders, rape, disappearances and displacements, which have gradually escalated to the present record high levels.

Fought once by the IPKF and several times by Sri Lankan Army, the war ended just like in the movies. The hero gets beaten up in the begining but still wins in the end. The present war can be no different.

The problem in Sri Lanka(SL) is that the Sinhalese have been made by politicos and Sinhalese owned media to exceed the boundaries of admiration for war. Albert Einstein said " thje difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits."

However, there are still a few prudent persons who have woken up to reality and ask continuous questions about the reason and winnability of the war. But it falls on deaf ears of those in authority who could make a difference. It is embarrassing to watch grown men behave in this manner.

The soldiers who fight the war, whenever interviewed after injury or decapitation of limbs, say with a sad heart that they joined the armed forces to overcome poverty.

James Madison said "no nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare". Mahinda rajapakse raises his stick at those who write against the war, which is his war and not the peoples' war. He got peoples mandate during his presidential elections to continue with peace talks to completion and not to execute a war.

Because of abrogating the ceasefire unilaterally and heavy human rights violations by the soldiers, long standing respectful, helpful and friendly countries of SL are "jumping off" from its erratic journey, leaving behind Iran; a country facing sanctions for its rebel nuclear program, and China; a country that is not respected for its rights violations and lack of freedom to its citizens.

All the citizens may soon be "jumping off" from the erratic journey of the ship leaving Mahinda and his acolytes to bury it peacefully in the deep sea !!

The leader of any country takes care of the future of all the citizens. SL never had a leader since 1956. SL must find a vibrant leader like Barrack Obama of the USA, with values and real heart for all the people. Such a leader would be capable of a vision with fusion to respect the legitimate rights of Tamils in the NE and lead all in the island towards justice, reconciliation, peace and development.

Posted by: Sam Thambipillai | August 11, 2008 10:59 AM

The 13th amendment or 13th amendment plus is the viable solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.

I remember that the Tamil leaders were discussing the possibility of 13th amendment minus 60 years ago. We have not moved an inch since then apart from killing, discriminating the Tamils all these years.

Are you or your government ready to implement the 13th amendment or plus within a reasonable time?

Do you really think that the Sinhala nationalism will allow this to happen?

Posted by: Dyan Jeyasekara | August 11, 2008 01:12 PM

Every thing is going to backfire for the Sinhalese, Tamil Eelam is the only solution to the Tamils. The Tamils will win Tamil Eelam or die in the process.

Posted by: Thamilan | August 11, 2008 01:56 PM

"Position 3 and possibly 4 are the only ones with significant support from the Sinhala public and some support from some Tamils (both North and East). Thus 13th amendment Classic passes the test."

The problem with Dayan's enthusiastic support for the status quo solution ("13th amendment Classic") is that **neither Sinhalese nor Tamils share his enthusiasm for the 13th Amendment.** As Dayan very well knows, the 13th Amendment was imposed by India and JR with zero input from any community, and it should come to no surprise that it led to BOTH the JVP uprising and the ill-fated NEPC.

"13th amendment Classic," in other words, is a solution where both Sinhalese and Tamils will walk away feeling cheated. Any subsequent misgovernance could be pinned on this solution by either community. It is a recipe for disaster.

Dayan shares the same problem of most SL commentators in that *he sees a political solution in LINEAR terms* (ie along a spectrum from no devolution to confederalism/separatism, with the exception of solution 8). If he has any serious interest in a political solution, he and his fellow travelers will have to think outside the box.

Posted by: wijayapala | August 11, 2008 02:52 PM

m'm'mmmmmm interesting.
We need a group like LTTE to bring Sinhalese this far, I mean upto 13th amendment.
I am sure, if LTTE survive this Eelam War IV, they might take Sihalese to 130th amendment. If not, let's see how next VP handles Sinhalese Extremists?

Posted by: aratai | August 11, 2008 05:28 PM

Mr. Thambipillai says “the war during the past 25 years by the GOSL was against a liberation movement in the NE”

He would probably like to compare the LTTE the ANC, the IRA Hezbollah, Hamas and Nepal's Maoists.

Then most blasphemous is the comparison of the LTTE to the ANC. Something that the LTTE peddles freely among the Durban Indians in South Africa. The ANC fought for majority rule against apartheid which was a form of entrenched and brutal minority rule. The whites in South Africa controlled politics as well as the economy. The Tamil population in Sri Lanka even now is more economically powerful compared to the majority and once constituted 60% of the civil service. A democracy, however flawed, Sri Lanka's system is one of majority rule and its problems are in balancing majority rule with minority rights. The LTTE's struggle is for a separate state in which Tamil apartheid would be practiced. The ANC was a multiracial organization while the LTTE is mono-ethnic. The military wing of the ANC the MK was only formed as a last resort under severe protest from the ANC hierarchy (the head of the MK was Jo Slovo, a white). The MK had a strict policy on only targeting economic and military targets and doing so with minimum civilian casualties (at night etc). The LTTE mostly bombs civilian targets and does so to maximize civilian casualties (a passenger bus is hardly a strategic military target).

Then let us consider the IRA, After three decades, the IRA realized that a military victory over the British presence was impossible to achieve. The LTTE has not realized that. The LTTE murdered or attempted to murder those it negotiated with (Premadasa, CBK), moderate ethnic politicians (Amirthalingam), foreign intermediaries (Rajiv Gandhi) and its own negotiators (Mahattaya). The equivalent conduct would have been the IRA murdering Tony Blair, John Hume, George Mitchell and Martin MacGuinness. The IRA had a powerful political arm, the Sinn Fein, which had been in existence for decades. The LTTE registered a political party as late as 1990, dissolved it in short order, arresting and murdering its chairman, Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahattaya.

Now Northern Ireland remains very much part of the UK, the IRA shares power with their Protestant foes and Britain remains a unitary state, unconverted to federalism but with devolution of power.

Hezbollah, was formed as a direct result of and response to a cross-border invasion and partial occupation by a foreign power, Israel. With a solid political base and Parliamentary representation, it is a classic resistance movement against external invasion. The Sri Lankan armed forces have not invaded any other country so an armed movement against it cannot be resistance movement against the foreign invaders of a sovereign country, nor can it be compared with such a movement.

Hamas, though much less successful than the Hezbollah, is also a resistance movement against foreign occupation and annexation by Israel in violation of four decades of UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions.

Nepal's Maoists waged a revolutionary war against an entrenched hereditary monarchy. Sri Lanka is a democracy. In any case Nepal's Maoists have been the first to make the point, on the record to the Hindu, that the Tigers are nothing like them whatsoever, and that the LTTE has no political program or ideology other than that of separatism pure and simple.

Posted by: Chaminda | August 12, 2008 07:16 AM


Posted by: NORBERT PERERA | August 12, 2008 12:45 PM

Dayan Jayatilleke’s assertion of the eight points is only of academic interest as stated by Sri. Administrative decentralization does not mean imposing majority’s will upon the minority. The Tamils are not prepared to trust the Sinhalese political leaders. The minority should have the right to decide what is suitable for their economic development (not separation) in their own region.

Administrative decentralisation becomes meaningful only when devolution of some power from the Centre to the Provincial Units is entrenched in the Constitution. This is only possible with the division of powers between the Federal Government and the Provincial Government. This is the way to bridge between the North and South and build mutual understanding.

Vardharajaperumal made an Unilateral Declaration of Independence as a last resort with the view to obtain the support of the Tamils from the LTTE at a time when the LTTE joined hands with R.Premadasa. Even Anton Balasingam went to the extent of saying “we do not want Eelam”. Those events at that time also revealed the reluctance of devolving power to the Province. It is all because of the blunders of R.Premadasa.

Pro-Eelam noises in Tamil Nadu is for the survival of the Tamil Nadu politicians. Ananda Vikatan survey cannot be treated as a referendum. It is a bulletin circulated in Tamil Nadu and among the Tamils all over the world and it has to survive. Ananda Vikatan Opinion can change from time to time as it was taken at a time when emotional feeling ran heavily among Tamil Nadu and the conclusion of that Opinion only shows the deep sympathy for the humanitarian plight of Sri Lanka's Tamils.

Further after the death of Rajiv Gandhi, the necessity for a solution was initiated by Dr.G.L.Peiris in consultation with the late Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam. Both commanded the respect, trust and confidence of the people, but was frustrated by the LTTE with the murder of Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam and the non-co-operation of the Draft constitution on the Canadian model presented by Dr.G.L.Peiris). Further, the JVP with half-baked knowledge promotes war and is a hindrance to the unity of Sinhalese and Tamils, thus leaving the country in shambles. In addition, today India is confronted with Islamic Terrorists from all quarters while at the same time the Sri Lankan Presidents were not at all sincere with India and this is a stark naked fact. India is also sad that at present Sri Lanka failed to accommodate eminent Tamils in solving the present problem which is also the view of the West. This does not mean that the LTTE is the authoritative representative of the Tamils with eminence as the world knows how the LTTE acted at the negotiating tables.

Against such a background, the possible settlement of the ethnic conflict has taken an alternative course of path with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi as well as with the migration of Tamils to the West. As such I have my reservation of the Indian model of solving the current issue. Definitely the cure is federalism. There are three countries namely, India, USA and Canada whose constitutions has to be considered, where there are differences pertaining to the assignment of powers between the Provincial Government and the Federal Government. Though the terminology is different (States in USA, State and Territories in India and in Canada), powers for the Federal government is restricted in USA other than Foreign, Defence and Finance. In Canada the powers of Provincial Government are restricted and in India is almost similar to that of Canada but federalism in India is still in its infancy (e.g. agitation for disallowing waters to other States, etc). Further the way of life in USA and Canada is different from that of the way of life in India. However the fact remains that we are living in a changing world and most of the migrated Sri Lanka Tamils have already adopted to their Western thinking and living on the wealth of the West. Though India has adopted to such style they have a distinct culture which they steadily preserve and maintain. There is only the cultural relations that remain with Sri Lanka. It is against such a back ground whether following the Indian model would be sensible though the culture is the same (which too is being transformed to the West because of TV media, etc). Further Sri Lankan Constitution is a hybrid of the Westminster and the American model. What is taking place is only an evolution. It is for this reason that any solution to the current problem should be built on little India with a blend of little West which means almost classic federalism. Other forms of federalism will be a short lived one.

Posted by: A.Rajasingam | August 12, 2008 09:31 PM

Federal solution+immediate ceasefire= unity+peace+progress

military solution+ continuous war=destruction+mistrust+economic ruin

Posted by: shan nalliah norway | August 13, 2008 12:07 PM

Than these eight proposals President Chandrika's Original package or the Indian Minister Chithabaram's Proposal's only satisfy the Indian governmet and both the minorities. What is important here is it has to satisfy the minorities not the Majority.

Posted by: Selva | August 15, 2008 04:38 PM

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