Aspects of barriers on Federalism in Sri Lanka

Point of view: Some aspects of barriers on Federalism in Sri Lanka:

By A. Rajasingam

It is a tragedy to observe that the Sinhala Only Act accounted as a marked departure towards the march of communal cry, a problem that was created unnecessarily. The Tamils would have studied the Sinhala language even if the Sinhala Only Act was not passed, had Sinhala and Tamil been enshrined as official languages in the constitution.

It became worse when the 1972 constitution was passed with the sole purpose of denying a place for Tamils by not having a Senate. This was still made worse when JRJ passed the 1978 constitution with the introduction of proportional representation solely with the view to deny any hearing of the Tamil community. To their surprise Amirthalingam became the Opposition Leader. But it was a shame that even the Official Residence of the Opposition Leader was burnt by hooligans. Since successive governments concentrated on marginalizing the Tamils from all quarters, the feelings of the Tamils as equal citizens of this country has become a question mark. The Sinhalese politicians have already decided that this island belonged solely to the Sinhalese which was further fortified by the late D.B.Wijetunge when he openly said that Tamils were like parasites clinging on to the Sinhalese. Further the late R.Premadasa bluffed that everything was given to Tamils and engaged in supplying arms to the LTTE in driving the IPKF out. Then came Chandrika with the famous slogan of 'Peace for All' and ended up waging war on innocent Tamils, swallowing the Tsunami Fund and abusing Presidential powers for her self interest.

Today President Mahinda Rajapakse (who protested over the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord and of the IPKF, but also ridiculed the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with the demerger of the North East Province) too follows the same steps of his predecessors and is maintaining silent or avoiding on declaring a meaningful solution to the burning problem. Further, Gen.Sarath Fonseka's statement that Sri Lanka belonged only to the Sinhalese, appeared to be out of his depth in Sri Lankas's history. The choice of Karuna as Parliamentarian and Pillaiyan as Chief Minister has proved to be a liability and aggravated the situation and proved a costly error. Such grave errors kept the concept of federalism out of bounds in their search for a lasting solution. Instead of showing the world that the ethnic problem could be solved through wider participation by the people, they cheated the world by increasing the number of Parliamentarians with a mega Cabinet, all of which point out the failure to provide good governance to the people by the Sinhalese leadership by avoiding the talk on federalism. Good governance is part of respecting each other's rights and redressing other's grievances. Sri Lanka has yet to learn a lot of lessons from the Western democratic countries as to how those countries exchange ideas and respect others' rights by way of wider participation (coordination within the Provinces). Strictly speaking the Sinhalese political leaders deliberately deviated the attention of the masses to ethnic problem with the sole view to deny the benefits of federalism which are due to the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Even the media was twisting and providing a bitter taste of federalism to the people without knowing the concept of “Denied Powers” to the Federal Government and Provincial Government on certain areas which are monitored by the Senate and dealt by the Judiciary. The time is ripe for the people to realize that politicians were and are still instrumental for the destruction of hundreds of thousands lives and property in deliberately avoiding available answer of federalism, when other countries have accepted federalism for the development of their country and avoid unnecessary bloodbath.

Against such a background the statements that 'I am committed to a political solution' by the President; 'Tamil Citizens should feel equal citizens and partners of this country' by Dayan Jayatilleke; 'there is no ethnic problem' by Rohoita Bogollogama and so on, have only resulted in unleashing of barbaric actions of the Sri Lanka forces on the entire helpless innocent Tamils. The desperate situation of the innocent school children running to bunkers on hearing the noise of Kifir Jet Bombers which has become a daily occurrence, has not changed their hearts. What would have happened had their (politicians and writers) children confronted with such a horrific situation. Will there be a different law for them? Politicians do not seem to realize that some of these innocent children could become leaders of tomorrow Politicians when the global thinking on federalism is on the increase among the new generations..

The question that roams in everyone's mind is what went wrong in this country. On analyzing this issue, the mind is taken as to who was instrumental for the creation of Tamil Chauvinism and what are the factors that should have been laid for a strong foundation for Tamil citizens to feel that they are equal citizens of this country. If the people are prudent to look at the ways and means in developing a confident building measure, then they would find that crux of the matter lies at the grass root level which stem from the coordination between the Provinces for the creation of an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood.

Federalism has the force of fostering peace through discussions and consultations and thus prevent wars. All conflicts can be thrashed out by exchanging ideas for the betterment of the entire country by way of discussions at a conference of Provincial Ministers. Economic prosperity could be promoted internally within the Provinces.

Similarly, on the economic point of view politicians failed to realize that every Province has its own natural resources which could be exploited with the assistance of the Provincial representatives through exchange of ideas by a mechanism of wider participation that should have been provided in the constitution.

Such a mechanism was deliberately nullified on account of the undesirable behaviour of politicians like K.M.P.Rajaratne, Cyril Mathew, Ratnasri Wickremaratne, the JVP, the JHU and now even the ruling political leaders. They are only interested about their false superiority over the others at the expense of the minorities. The reasoning that the Sinhalese do not have any other countries for opposing Federalism is without any foundation. In India though there are several races, they called themselves as Indians. Similarly in Canada as Canadians, in America as Americans and so on. It is at this juncture one should appreciate the remarkable feature of federalism which allows a nation within a nation. It is not separation. It is the coordination within Provinces and share each other's ideologies and cultures in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood. From the Banada– Chelva Pact to the present APC the political leaders failed miserably to settle about
the existence of coordination between the Provinces.

It is the behaviour of the politicians that eventually give birth to the oppression of the minorities. These politicians have entirely forgotten that federalism is a mechanism involving a nation within a nation with a well coordinated network of intergovernmental departments. It has one main identity of the larger nation while retaining the other identity within the Provinces which fact has been misunderstood by the Sinhalese politicians and had deviated the path to destruction. Briefly Federalism respects plurality of identity of human beings when Provincial Governments are empowered on certain areas to attend its own matters by the constitution. The challenge of accommodation of human diversity depends on how the powers are allocated to the Provincial Governments. Should there be a conflict amounting to the detriment of the federal government, it should be resolved through some mechanisms by way of incorporating a powerful Upper House (Senate) similar to the one in USA together with an independent Judiciary, all of which points out that the Federal government will have the absolute power to protect the individuals who are targeted by the Provincial Government. This is where the Sinhalese political leaders have blundered in abolishing the Senate.

The undesirable behaviour of the politicians are treated and accounted as barriers for the smooth operation of federalism. If such barriers are not properly checked, it would not be a surprise that uprisings would lead to the bleeding of the country. The short-sighted thinking of the selfish politicians eventually led to the false assumption that the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils can be suppressed with military might. If the people can lay a barrier to the entry of undesirable politicians at the elections, then the people will begin to reap the fruits of federalism.

Moreover, the politicians also failed to realize that Parliament is a sacred place to pass laws for the welfare of the people. They have already tarnished the image of the sacredness by misusing their privileges without looking at countries such as USA, Canada, Switzerland, India, etc where the aspirations of the entire people are fulfilled because of federal features.

Today the political leaders who were instrumental for the creation of the unsettled solution are trying to thrash out with various theories when the available remedy of federalism is at their door step. It is regret to observe that Sri Lankan leaders were only concerned of the Military's fire power and not the people's will power. It is several weeks since the President believed that the military is within sight of the much heralded victory over Kilinochchi without knowing the probability that Kilinochchi would later turn out to be the grave yard for the Sri Lankan soldiers. The swollen headed political leaders have forgotten the lesson about the tragedy of the American soldiers in Vietnam. In war nothing is certain. The tactics of the LTTE is to crouch and pounce on these soldiers by encircling them. Against such a scenario, when Tamil nationalism is running over the Tamils and been duly exploited by the LTTE, the allegation that the war is waged on terrorism by politicians become meaningless when such liberation struggle is blended with terrorism or terrorism is blended with nationalism which is a matter for the future historians to evaluate. My humble submission is that if war is waged on terrorism then it is the paramount duty of the government to seek the assistance of the NGOs to provide adequate shelter food and other necessities to the helpless and innocent Tamils and isolate them from the terrorists.

The other vital question is against whom is the government waging war. It is the Sinhalese political leaders who had honey moons with the LTTE prior to the elections for publicity and later when they fall out with the LTTE, they wage war on its own citizens who have been deprived by all means. This is the scenario that is taking place in order to cover their own faults. What is crucial, in a changing world, is the global line of thinking on federalism among the next generations on account of development of the IT throughout the world. The younger generations throughout the world exchange ideas which are beneficial to them and the country. The Sinhalese political leaders can no more hide the benefits of federalism to its own people. They should find means of bringing a meaningful solution. The extremist groups such as JVP and the JHU are a curse to this country for not allowing the unification of Sri Lanka. If only the political leaders can understand the gravity of coordination between the Provinces then they would not dare to utter that Federalism is separation. Instead they will find it as a concept of 'Binding Together'.

India as a Mediator, at the time the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed, could have insisted on Federalism proper to adopt a meaningful political solution to the conflict that meets the aspirations of the entire Sri Lanka’s communities. The Sri Lankan leaders allocated adequate funds and powers for the other Provinces but not to the North East Province, a fact signaling the refusal to move even an inch towards the federal set up. This is where the international community expects the dispute to be settled within a federal framework where all communities can live equally. However, the LTTE should be blamed for failing to lend a supporting hand to the India. It assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in their own soil violating their laws, in addition to a number of educated moderate Tamils. One can characterize the nature of the LTTE when it continued to ridicule the IPKF through their Tamil Parliamentarians in and out of the Parliament. The short-sightedness of the LTTE allowed room for the Sri Lanka Government to continue to crush the Tamils. At the moment only some highly respected persons such as Mr.P.Chidambaram in the calibre of Mr.G.Parthasarathy with the first hand knowledge and experience of the situation can deliver some meaningful solutions within the federal framework, though Article 2 of the United Nations Charter discourages interference into the domestic affairs of a country except for genocide.

This is the hour for the President to overcome all barriers of petty politics and act as a statesman in declaring federalism as the ultimate solution with one stroke of the pen and dismiss exploring unnecessary researches of finding other avenues which have become a futile exercise. By declaring federalism the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be strengthened and will not be affected in any way. The entire world will applaud him (including the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims) if he declares federalism as the ultimate solution. The choice is in his hands whether to lead the country to a glorious chapter or allow it to continue bleeding the country.


(1) There are many who blame LTTE for their 'historical blunder' making India to go against Tamils. Actually, even before RG was killed, in 1987 India went against Tamils by agreeing (or proposing) to 13th amendment.

(2) Even today, India shake hands with Pakistan (after so many bombings by Pakistan intelligence) but refuse to talk to Tigers.

Therefore it is very clear that India cannot solve Lankan issue.

What Srilanka need is a Mahatma Gandhi like leader, who can control the majority sinhalese budhists, while treating minorities as equal.

Let's wait for the Sinhalese Mahatma.


Posted by: aratai | November 7, 2008 04:47 PM

Here we go flogging the dead language horse again. Was it the "Tamil Homeland" before SJV that protected Tamil language?

4 centuries of colonial rule only English official language. How did Tamil survive that long? Lets try to be honest at least for once without losing anymore credibility. Or this will end up being akin to any Tamil "genocide" protests no one gives much notice to these days.

Posted by: Panhinda | November 7, 2008 10:50 PM

A juvenile solution proposition (i.e. “… with the single stroke of a pen….”) to a complex socio-political challenge that has ballooned over 80 years.

Any problem that has taken decades to evolve will also take decades to resolve. There can never be quick single silver bullet solution to a messy challenge of this nature. And federalism is not a quick silver bullet - go ask the American professor Daniel Elazar, the foremost authority on Federalism who once stated that in order for fedaralism to succeed the federating units must be at peace and mutually trusting of one another. Hardly a pre-condition that satifies the Sri Lankan situation.

Posted by: dias | November 8, 2008 12:24 AM

your all point of views are weighted to a side. Only you think of your race not the nation.It is very shame. you only consider Sinhala politicians did every things but your politicians....?

This is the sinhalese homeland not for others

Posted by: Saman Atapattu | November 8, 2008 01:22 AM

Dear Rajasingam

Do not distort facts. Tamil sectarian mentality was much older than 1972..

50-50 demand B4 1948,Chelva, Nadesan, Ponnambalm spread the virus way back in 1920s..Why not talk about upperhand to Tamils with "Thesawalamai Law", Sinhalese people did not agitate on that.As a result of backing British by Tamils against sinhalese resistence , you all got majority rights being the minority.

RE. Amirthalingam assault by hooligans what about chasing 125000 sinhalese & muslims by militant tamils not by hooligans.RE. Tamil MPs presence, do they act within a SL frame work or Tamil Nadu frame work promoting Indian & global Tamil interests.Be honest & speak the truth about 54% Tamils live in harmony in sinhalese areas, Tamils enjoy all SL universities but sinhalese/muslims prevented on North/East unis are only few examples.

Posted by: adrian | November 8, 2008 05:36 AM

Hi My Sinhala Brothers
Shall We stop repeating same old stories again & again.
We ,I mean All Lanka Puththa's heard these Advices (live togerther , brother hole etc..) & uncoundable search for our Nation Problme (sorry some will say no problme to find a unique solution etc...) .
for a change Shall My Sinhala Brothers please think only one solution for this is Federalism in Sri Lanka (United sates of Sri (i)Lanka(i)).
We(Tamil) beg you Bros Had enough!!!!!
Please give us a live !!!!

Posted by: Lingam | November 9, 2008 04:02 AM

What a bunch of idiots all of you. This land originally belonged to the Veddahs but both the Tamils and the Sinhalese are fighting over it like cravens over dead meat.

What did lord Buddha teach. Go and fight, kill, dont make peace.

What are the monks doing. Is this what they learned to be monks to be in politics making decisions to continue with the war, use the public funds to import cars and sell them? In what way are they different to Islamic Fundamentalists.

Well no wonder why people are leaving such a beautiful country and looking for a peaceful life elsewhere.

Posted by: sharmini | November 9, 2008 05:11 AM

It is refreshing to see somebody writing in favor of a federal solution.

All the people really need is peace.

Posted by: Murugan | November 10, 2008 01:15 AM

There were fissiparous tendencies in India too, at the time of independence. In a way India should be thankful to Jinna for insisting on secession, getting his way around too. Obviously, Kashmir is a lingering problem. At least the rest of India is more stable than Sri Lanka.

I believe the time Federalism should have been implemented is before 1972, despite 1956. The Republican Constitution of 1972 ruined what little trust was left between Tamils and Sinhalese. With the right of appeal to the Privy Council taken away too soon before Sri Lanka could stand on its own legs, way was paved for accentuating the fissiparous tendencies. From then on there was not enough trust left between Tamils and the Sinhala governments.

You cannot implement a Federal solution without trust, especially with creeping genocide that is ongoing in the east and with the war in full swing instigated by racists and supremacists there is no chance that a Federal solution could be fully implemented. A half-baked Federal solution would only serve to continue to deceive as the present dispensation of the 13th Amendment does. When SJV said in 1976 that a solution could not be found within the legal and constitutional framework, he knew what he was talking about having spent decades on the Tamil National Question.

Sinhala supremacists talk amongst them a lot, which is what I call Incestuous Esoteric Dialogue. They define terms to suit themselves: like Tamils are a recent arrival to the island; democracy means majority rule - them being the majority - which is in effect majority tyranny. The idea that democracy means equality has not sunk in to them yet. Supremacists hold sway over the country, and will continue that way for decades to come.

Things may change for the better, but for that to happen war should be ended and all major parties should actively promote better class of politicians. It is only then you can trust politicians and governments. Simply put, there isn't a political culture strong enough to implement Federalism. The only answer is secession!!!.

On the whole a good article.

Posted by: P Shantikumar | November 10, 2008 02:39 PM

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