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NM’s statesmanship: Need of the hour I cannot be a party to such an outcome

7 June 2013 06:30 pm - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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He spelled out all the consequences that could flow and it is sad that much of what he predicted has come to pass

By Prof  Tissa Vitarana

When we are celebrating the 108th Birth Anniversary of Dr. N.M.Perera, 34 years after his death, we miss him most for his statesmanship, which Sri Lanka lacks today and needs most of all at this juncture in its history.

Quoting from the Sunday Observer of 24.06.1995, “Professor Harold Laski, his legendary teacher at the London School of Economics, (the theoretician of the Labour Party in Britain), said that he had all the qualities required of an English Chancellor of the Exchequer. From the ranks of Tuscany came even bigger praise. Sir Ivor Jennings, a former Vice Chancellor of the Ceylon University, said that he had all the qualities required of a Labour Prime Minister in Britain.”
Though he was twice Finance Minister in Sri Lanka, and the first Leader of the Opposition, he never became Prime Minister because he sacrificed his political future by standing by his principles for the sake of his country.

When the sangha, veda, guru, govi, kamkaru – Pancha Maha Balavegaya approached NM in the 1950s to be their leader and become Prime Minister, he said “I can accept almost all your demands, because they were included in the objectives of the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP)when it was formed in 1935, (the welfare state with free education and health, together with social justice, workers and democratic rights in the context of rapid economic development), but not the demand for “Sinhala only as the official language”.

“I am for replacing English, the language of our colonial oppressor, so as to correct the injustice done to the Sinhala people, but we must also correct the injustice done to the Tamils by making Tamil also an official language. Otherwise a sea of blood will flow across our land and the country will be divided.
“I cannot be a party to such an outcome.”

Mr. S.W.R.D Bandaranaike accepted the leadership and became Prime Minister in 1956. The rest is history, much of which has been tragic, though undoubtedly considerable progress has been made. This contradiction remains to this day.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka the national capitalist class, led by the United National Party (UNP), chose to play a subservient (comprador) role to the British colonial rulers and were content with the limited independence granted in 1948.

This was “Dominion status” where the head of state remained the British Queen, the British Army controlled the country and the final Court of legal Appeal was the Privy Council in London.

This was unlike in India where the national capitalist class led by Gandhi and Nehru, united all the diverse people to lead a mass struggle, the “Quit India” movement, (which the LSSP leaders like NM, Colvin and Philip joined after escaping from British jail in Ceylon), for complete independence.
Out of that struggle arose a united Indian nation state which gained independence in 1947, and a year later drafted a republican Constitution, and became a sovereign totally independent Republic.

The LSSP leaders, by joining the Suriyamal Movement with the Jaffna Youth Congress, led by Handy Perimpanayagam, sought to achieve complete independence, forging national unity in the course of that struggle.

" When the sangha, veda, guru, govi, kamkaru – Pancha Maha Balavegaya approached NM in the 1950s to be their leader and become Prime Minister, he said “I can accept almost all your demands... but not the demand for “Sinhala only as the official language”. "

But this was aborted by the British who banned the LSSP and jailed its leaders. This enabled the leadership of the national liberation struggle for complete independence to be taken over by the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists led by the SLFP, largely to the exclusion of the Tamils and Muslims.
Considering the prime need for completely liberating our country from the grip of British imperialist rule, the LSSP and the CP assisted the SLFP to achieve this task, by helping to install an SLFP- led MEP Government in 1956.

Thus, unlike in India, it took 24 long years for Sri Lanka to become a truly independent sovereign state through the 1972 Republican Constitution drafted by Colvin R de Silva of the LSSP to finally sever the umbilical cord that bound us to Britain, making Sri Lanka a truly independent sovereign state, a Republic.
Further, for the first time in Sri Lanka’s history, it granted sovereignty to the people who could freely elect their own leaders from among themselves, with both legislative and executive power being exercised through their representatives in Parliament. It empowered the people. To use a cliché “the era of the common man had dawned”. But unfortunately without completing the bourgeois democratic task of forging a united nation state.

Even four years after the defeat of LTTE separatist terrorism, we have not come together as one united Sri Lankan nation. Sinhala Buddhist nationalism still prevails.
But the UNP and its allies, who danced to the tune of the British Empire and today to that of the US Empire, which seeks to re-establish neo-colonial imperialist hegemony worldwide through the neo-liberal agenda, introduced the 1978 Constitution.

The democratic process which began with the grant of universal adult franchise in 1931 and gradually evolved harmoniously in the body politic of Sri Lanka on the Westminster model was arbitrarily dismantled.
As NM stated in his “Critical Analysis” of the 1978 Constitution, the institutional structure of the Constitution was transformed according to the model of the American presidential system.

NM “decried the wisdom of swinging a country, so politically and constitutionally young as ours, from one constitutional system to another so starkly different.”

"  The Police and Land powers under the 13th Amendment, as at present stated, are effectively under central government control, with the Governor appointed by the President as the chief executive "

In his book he spelled out all the consequences that could flow, and it is sad that much of what he predicted has come to pass.
The concentration of immense power in the hands of one individual, the distancing and the alienation of the people from those elected by them, the danger of the breakdown of orderly governance with rampant corruption and abuse of power, which could pave the way for a civil or military dictatorship, were all foretold before the constitution was put into effect.

These changes were made to allow the Government controlled by an Executive President to act arbitrarily and independently of the people to enable the multinational corporations and financial institutions of the US Empire to directly exploit our economy on neo-colonial lines.

“In this context it is sad that extremist elements have emerged that seek to achieve political power by whipping up not only anti-Tamil but even anti-Muslim sentiments among the Sinhala Buddhist majority. The genuine fear of separatism is being fed by raising the spectre of separatism.
No doubt, the chauvinist separatist slogans from Tamil Nadu, and the 10% of the Tamil diaspora that is pro-LTTE, in the context of the divisive global politics of America and its allies, adds fuel to these communalist flames.

The solutions offered, rather than preventing separatism, are feeding the separatist agenda. There is a danger of history repeating itself, but in a more tragic form, as international public opinion will support the move for separatism, and there is a danger of active foreign direct intervention.

The LTTE led conflict arose because the Tamils were deprived of the use of Tamil as an official language. Now some Sinhala Buddhist extremists want to deprive them of the benefits of devolved power enjoyed in all other provinces, however limited it may be, by either not holding the election to the Northern Provincial Council, or by removing the 13th Amendment or, failing that, by dropping the devolved Police and Land powers.  

On whatever pretext, if the promised September Northern Provincial Council elections are significantly delayed the forces of extremism in the South and the North, as well as those abroad, will complement each other and have a field day, aggravating communal discord and tensions. In the short term those parties that have gained political power by using the communal card may also try to use the emerging situation to their advantage, but at what a cost to the country.

" Even if the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is elected to power, it can only exercise the very limited powers devolved under the extensive control of the Central Government as in all other provincial councils "

The UNP leadership is stirring this witches brew by coming out with a so-called proposal for a new Constitution. The UNP leader JR Jayawardene passed the 1978 Constitution as an urgent bill through Parliament without any prior consultation not only with the Opposition but even many of his own Ministers and least of all the people.

If NM was alive today I am sure that he would insist on the early conduct of the elections of the Northern Provincial Council.  

Even if the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is elected to power, it can only exercise the very limited powers devolved under the extensive control of the Central Government as in all other provincial councils. The Police and Land powers under the 13th Amendment, as at present stated, are effectively under central government control, with the Governor appointed by the President as the chief executive. But even these limited powers in these two areas are not being exercised as the President has not permitted it. So even if the TNA is elected to power in the Northern Province there is nothing that it can do to further the cause of separation.

The Tamil people have suffered enough over more than 30 years of conflict and do not want any more of it. The TNA leaders have made it clear that they do not want separation. But if we are foolish enough to deprive them of a right enjoyed in other provinces we are forcing them once again to become the pawn of those with a separatist agenda.
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  Comments - 3

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  • Dalit Sunday, 09 June 2013 03:40 AM

    NM is no different to other Socilaists of Ceylon who were dependent on Tamils and Indians for money and ideas.

    M.O.A. Careem Saturday, 08 June 2013 02:40 PM

    still re member..........Hon. late N.M.P. fiance minister's budget speech 1970- Sri Tax, currency demonetization -the 5 year plan - if those systems were implemented to date - we are self-sufficient and better off..........

    SCW Sunday, 09 June 2013 05:40 AM

    Dear Prof. Vitarana - Are you proud of your legacy in politics? Have you stood by your principles? Where is Sri Lanka's left today? Even at this late stage, take a stand based on your so called principles.


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