Going by published accounts since the commencement of the talks on January 10, the two sides would side-step pitfalls and potholes until they have been able to remove mutual mistrust that had been the bane of political negotiations on the ethnic issue over the past decades. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would also mean that there could be -- and would have to be -- some give-and-take on issues that are contentious and controversial.
The Government having named its members to the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) for finding the political solution, the TNA, as is known, has linked its participation to substantial progress that it hopes to achieve in the December negotiations. Conversely, the TNA would not want to be seen -- mainly by its domestic constituency -- to have sacrificed the Tamil interests in the altar of political expediency in post-war Sri Lanka, by participating in a PSC whose agenda would not take them to a decisive goal of politico-administrative plurality within a united nation.
By extension, it could also mean a failure of the moderate Tamil political forces in the country, and a possible reversal to an eminently forgettable phase in the nation’s post-Independence history. It is history that has again provided an early opportunity for such reconciliation, but it has to be contextualised to the present -- and not to an equally forgettable past, whose anomalies continue to hamper growth and progress not only of the political process but also of the nation.
Though one of the contentious issues that needs to be left behind for the final rounds of negotiations after substantial progress had been made on the devolution front, it is the very unit of devolution that needed addressing at an appropriate stage. Rather, there should be no confusion in and on the matter, the question having been settled in favour of the ‘Province’ years ago -- and also attested by the incumbent Government.
To President Mahinda Rajapksa should go the credit for declaring early on during ‘Eelam War IV’ that a future political solution would derive from the existing Thirteenth Amendment to the nation’s Constitution. Thus, ‘Thirteen-plus’ and ‘Thirteen-plus-plus’ were in vogue until not very long ago.
As is known, 13-A has had Provinces-based devolution as the basic structure. The TNA’s unwillingness to stop with what 13-A has had to offer -- at the same time, going beyond and beside the structural construct was behind the presidential proposal. Promises made on this count were also among the justifications for global governments to bring into force the ‘international safety-net’ that had been offered at the time of the ceasefire agreement (CFA). The rest, as they say, is history.
At a time when the all-but-forgotten APRC sought submissions from various stake-holders in the country, the ruling SLFP of President Rajapaksa still stuck to past positions like district-level devolution. It’s not devolution but decentralisation of powers, with only powers of execution of laws and rules, programmes and policies, formulated by the Government at the Centre.
The Tamils have been demanding something entirely different, and which anyway was consciously and conscientiously written into the Statute through 13-A. To blame India or any other for the same is untenable, as close to quarter of a century it has remained so, unmolested and unmodified.
Power-devolution is a political issue now as it was before the CFA and Eelam War-IV. A solution thus would also have to be political. This is what Provinces-centric power-devolution has offered and promises to expand through negotiations with and among the stake-holders. This in turn is also what the TNA has been promised, and the PSC too has been set to practice.
Anything short of what is on the table is as good as upturning the table itself. Clearly that is not an option that the Sri Lankan Government is looking at. Instead, President Rajapaksa has been promising power-devolution and peace, as has been understood by the whole nation. It is not a paraphrased version with districts as the base. That system failed when tried out early on.
In good time, this took the nation towards power-devolution with Provinces as the centre in the first place -- and was a via media between what was on offer by the Sri Lankan State and what the less-moderate elements from within the Tamil community had hoped for and fought a war. In turn, it is this that has lent greater credence and credibility what Provinces-based power-devolution stood for!
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