Caught Between Tweedledum and Tweedledee

by Col R Hariharan (retd)

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle!
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel!
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.’ – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Sri Lanka is all set to implement the 13th Amendment of the Constitution in full as recommended by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) “as a prelude to the APRC proposals.” This is what the APRC has recommended to President Rajapaksa in its interim proposal (given in appendix below). And the President wanted it to do so and it has done it. Driving the devolution ghost is as simple as that, it seems.

And the suggestion to implement to fully implement the 13th Amendment, that is celebrating its twentieth birthday, comes after the APRC had 63 sittings over a period of one and a half years! The action of the APRC reminds me of the Tamil proverb “Malayai kalli eliyai pidithan” (dug up the mountain to catch a mouse).

Had this action been taken in 1987-88 by the crafty Sri Lankan President JR Jayawardane who introduced the 13th amendmen, the country would have avoided bloodshed, acrimony and conflict that has dogged it for two decades. This was not done. So the price the nation has paid at the altar of political expedience, ethnic fanaticism, and religious and language frenzy is colossal. It can never be calculated in actual terms. Roughly it involved sacrificing the lives of over 80,000 people from Sri Lanka and India, displacement and dissipation of orderly lives of more than a million people, and destruction of billions of rupees of national wealth and private property or his.And the tragedy continues like serial killing.

But caught between the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Sri Lanka politics national vision is yet to emerge as seen from the signatories of the APRC interim recommendations. The United National Party (UNP), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – two of the three political parties that matter in resolving any complex national issue are absent among them, just as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the conglomerate of erstwhile Tamil political foes of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) now toeing its line – which was never invited.

At least the JVP had been consistent in its opposition to the whole effort of the APRC. Both the UNP which was instrumental in pushing through the 13th amendment and the SLFP which had opposed it, had occupied the Temple Trees in the last two decades of war, mayhem and peace. But they did not care to implement it in full during their rule. So there are sufficient grounds for Tamils to ask the question “are the mainstream political parties of Sri Lanka genuine when they talk of devolution of powers to minorities?”

It is equally strange that President Rajapaksa now requires the APRC recommendation to take action on what is already in the statute books of the government. One cannot but agree with the views of Western Peoples Front (WPF) one of the smaller parties, on the whole charade of trying to delay devolution of powers using the APRC as an instrument to do the dirty deed. Questioning the need to reintroduce an already active legislative instrument, the press release, the WPF said: “13th amendment is already law. What is pending is the implementation of the same. Failure to implement what is already law is the sole business of the government. The All Party Conference and the APRC were formed to discuss and develop a set of new constitutional proposals addressing what is referred as the ethnic problem or the Tamil problem.”

However we cannot find fault with Tissa Vithrana, the chairman of the APRC, for this imbroglio because the good man is trying to shore up some positive action towards devolution as the APRC appears to be having an eternal dialogue rooted in rigid and frozen beliefs on what is good for Sri Lanka rather than what will save the country from further collapse, death and destruction. The sad thing is that the nation had not been able to use the services of a person of Vitharana’s calibre to work out a meaningful solution speedily. Pragmatism rather than political expediency or backroom deals is the need of the hour if Sri Lanka wants to have permanent peace. It has no other choice.

Sri Lanka appears to have gone into a time warp since 2005 as the President is setting the clock back on a whole lot of contentious issues that had settled on median of possible resolution. First he denounced the federal format agreed for resolving the conflict with the LTTE. Then he froze the peace process instead of resuscitating it with military offensives, and denounced the Norwegian mediation. He hastily broke up the united north eastern province created following the India-Sri Lanka agreement 1987 to meet one of the key demands of Tamils. And he heralded the New Year with a walk out of the ceasefire agreement to hammer the last nail on the coffin of the peace process 2002. So it is only logical to conclude that the President is buying time to delay the “final” devolution package, hopefully till the end of the year when he expects the security forces to “erase” the LTTE. Then he will be able to negotiate from a position of military and political superiority to make Tamils to accept his solution..

Unfortunately, the political situation in India leaves it no choice but to accept the face saving action on 13th Amendment that is coming 20 years too late. The acceptance of the APRC’s recommendations will enable India also to buy time politically before radically taking a re-look at the Sri Lanka policy more positively. By then India’s power structure and priorities might alter and India will also perhaps join this game of ‘back to the past’ rather than look to the future. Let us hope not.

Tamils of all hues must also share the blame for leaving it to a military machine like the LTTE to decide the fate of all Tamils. It has always put its own interests before considering what is good for the largest number of people. Now weakened politically and militarily, it is doubtful whether the LTTE, extant or extinct, can ever deliver devolution of power to the people. It has not been able devolve powers to its own flock all these years.

Instead of breast beating and despairing with cries of ‘I told you so’, it is the responsibility of Tamil politicians including those of the TNA to ensure that they unite to see the President fully implements the 13th Amendment in letter and spirit. If they can do that the Tamil struggle for democratic rights would be genuine and not by silently watching the bombing buses of carrying women and children or condoning suicide attacks. The time for silence is over. They should make the full implementation of the 13th Amendment a beginning of national reconciliation and path to full devolution of powers.

Lastly, President Rajapaksa has an excellent opportunity now to implement the 13th Amendment not only to please India or any political lobby, or buy time to find the “final solution” to the LTTE, but to achieve his lofty aim of building a united Sri Lanka, practically from the ashes. But will he do it? Only he can answer.

In this context the lines of Bob Dylan’s modern version of ‘Tweedledee and Tweedledum’ come to my mind. It goes like this:

Tweedle-dee Dee is a lowdown, sorry old man
Tweedle-dee Dum, he’ll stab you where you stand
“I’ve had too much of your company,”
Says, Tweedle-dee Dum to Tweedle-dee Dee.

That would be a human tragedy of immense proportions.

(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-Mail: colhari@yahoo.com)

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Appendix

ACTION TO BE TAKEN BY THE PRESIDENT TO FULLY IMPLEMENT RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF THE PRESENT CONSTITUTION AS A PRELUDE TO THE APRC PROPOSALS

1. Introduction

1.1 The APRC was mandated by the President to prepare a set of proposals that would be the basis for a solution to the national question. After 63 sittings over a period of 1½ years the consensus document is being finalised and it should be possible to hand it over to the President in the very near future. The outcome would be a basis for appropriate constitutional arrangements. Implementation of this would of course require amendment of the present Constitution, and in respect of some Articles, approval by the People at a referendum. This would of course take time, once a favourable climate is established.

1.2 Under the circumstances, the APRC taking into consideration its own proposals has identified a course of action to achieve maximum and effective devolution of powers to the provinces in the short term. The emphasis would be on meeting the aspirations of the Tamil speaking peoples, especially in the North and East. This would be done within the framework of the present Constitution, that is, the 1978 Constitution. The course of action proposed by the APRC would be implementable with immediate effect, and envisages an interim arrangement pending the restoration of democratically elected Provincial Councils in the North and East.

1.3 The 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution was enacted following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987. It resulted in the setting up of Provincial Councils throughout Sri Lanka and it devolved power to the Provinces under the unitary Constitution. The powers devolved fall under a Provincial List and a Concurrent List. All other powers were reserved for the Centre through a Reserved List. Further, any subject or function not included in any of the three Lists will also be deemed to be a subject or function in the Reserved List.

1.4 Implementation of subjects and functions devolved on the Provinces through the Concurrent List has not taken place at all due to the fact most of these subjects and functions were retained by the Centre as if they also belonged to the Reserved List.

2. Steps necessary to permit Maximum Devolution of Powers to Provinces under the 13th Amendment

2.1 The Government should endeavour to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in respect of legislative, executive and administrative powers, overcoming existing shortcomings.

2.2 Adequate funds should be provided by the Government to facilitate effective functioning of the Provincial Councils.

2.2.1 The Centre should hereinafter route all finances in respect of special projects undertaken by the Centre in the Provinces, if they are on subjects under the purview of the Provinces, through the respective Provincial Administrations.

3. Special Arrangements necessary to permit Maximum Devolution of Powers to the Northern and Eastern Provinces under the 13th Amendment

3.1 The APRC is of the view that conditions in the Eastern Province are conducive to holding elections to the Provincial Council and that elections should be held immediately.

3.2 Conditions in the Northern Province are far from being peaceful. A free and fair election in the North will not be possible in the near future. Hence an alternative arrangement is required in the Northern Province to enable the people of that Province to enjoy the fruits of devolution.

3.3 As it is not possible to hold elections in the North, the President could make appropriate order to establish an Interim Council for the Northern Province in terms of the Constitution.

3.4 The Interim Council of a Province will aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his executive powers, and will function until Provincial Council elections are held in that Province.

3.4.1 The Interim Council should reflect the ethnic character of that Province.

3.4.2 It is proposed that the Interim Council for a Province should consist of individuals who have political experience and an abiding interest in the development of the Province and in its people and be acceptable to the people of the Province. A person to qualify for appointment as a member of an Interim Council should have a thorough knowledge of the particular Province.

4. Implementation of the Official Languages Provision of the Constitution

4.1 The Government should take immediate steps to ensure that Parliament enacts laws to provide for the full implementation of Chapter IV of the Constitution on Language.

4.2 There are many contexts in which remedial measures will assume an administrative, rather than a legislative, character.

The following are instances of measures which should be strenuously accelerated and implemented by the Government.

(a) recruitment of Tamil speaking police officers in sufficient numbers to enable Tamil speaking members of the public, not only in the North and East, but in the country as a whole, to transact business in their own language in police stations;

(b) the taking of all steps, including recruitment of staff and procurement of equipment to enable Tamil speaking members of the public to deal with Ministries, Government Departments, statutory corporations and all other public bodies in their own language;

(c) the regular holding of, and streamlining of procedures for, mobile “clinics” where officials fluent in the Tamil language will engage problem solving on the spot;

(d) the provision of interpreters, translators and other relevant facilities in all courts of law, so that the needs of members of provincial minority communities are catered fully with regard to all aspects of the administration of justice;

(e) The Sinhala minorities in the North and East suffer from disadvantages similar to those affecting Tamil speaking peoples as mentioned above. Suitable steps should be taken to address them along the same lines.

The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) comprised:

1. Sri Lanka Freedom Party
2. United National Party (D)
3. Jathika Hela Urumaya
4. Ceylon Workers Congress
5. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress
6. All Ceylon Muslim Congress
7. Mahajana Eksath Peramuna
8. National Unity Alliance
9. Up-country People’s Front
10. Communist Party of Sri Lanka
11. Eelam People’s Democratic Party
12. National Congress
13. Western People’s Front
14. Lanka Sama Samaja Party

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