Another ‘resolution’ to solve ‘the Tamil problem’ is set to end as the previous ones
The resolution that was adopted by the Northern Provincial Council last Friday has opened a political can of worms, especially in the South. Many people particularly the communal elements who had kept a low profile when similar resolutions were passed during the previous regime have begun to use this as an opportunity to show off their “patriotism.”
Nevertheless, the resolution moved by Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran naturally reminds us of the resolution that was moved by Varatharaja Perumal, the Chief Minister of the first and the last provincial council for the amalgamated North-Eastern Provincial Council on March 1, 1990 in his council and the proposal for the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) put forward by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in October 2003.
Perumal’s resolution which was adopted on the same day threatened the Premadasa government to make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in one year- on March 1, 1991, unless the government met the 19-point demand that he had put forward to the government. Although his 19 demands did not threaten the sovereignty or the security of the country it was eclipsed by his threat which had been distorted to-date as a UDI or a declaration of a Tamil Eelam, and not as a
warning of it.
It became a big political issue then and the LTTE which was honeymooning with the government used the opportunity to push President Ranasinghe Premadasa to dissolve Perumal’s council through an amendment to the Provincial Council Act which materialised in August in the same year. Many Tamil politicians who have been demanding greater devolution have never criticised the Premadasa government or the LTTE for introducing this amendment.
Unlike Perumal’s resolution, LTTE’s ISGA was in fact a clear blueprint for a separate State to be carved out in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. It was a strategy to compel the Chandrika-Ranil government to legally institute an administration totally independent of their government. However, the turbulent political situation that prevailed in the South then had obscured the LTTE proposal and led to the dissolution of the Parliament prematurely, sending the proposal into total oblivion.
To be fair by Chief Minister Wigneswaran the resolution passed by his council last week was not meant for any unilateral action independent of the government, but a set of proposals to be considered by the whole Parliament in the current process of Constitution making. The resolution is to be handed over to Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan who is also the Opposition Leader, according to Wigneswaran.
Although the TNA is the ruling party of the Northern Provincial Council, the party is administratively not authorised to handle the resolutions passed by the council. Such resolutions have to be forwarded to the governor of the province or to the minister in charge of provincial councils or to the Prime Minister.
The resolution contains a preamble with the contents that had been in almost all important policy documents of Tamil leaders in the recent past. It includes S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike’s proposal for a federal system in 1926, the Official Language Act commonly known as the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 introduced by Bandaranaike, standardisation in university admission introduced in 1970, the Sinhalese colonisation in the north and the east, the communal riots from 1957 to 1983, Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam pact of 1957 and the Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact of 1965, Vaddukkodai Resolution of 1976, Thimpu Principles of 1985, and finally the Oslo Declaration of 2002.
By reminding all these past events Wigneswaran points out how the Sinhalese leaders went back on their words in the past, in order to justify his demand for a confederation. However, the legacy of treachery does not belong to only one community. For instance, the LTTE too had reneged on its commitments to the peace processes with various governments including the Oslo federal agreement in 2002.
The salient features of Mr. Wigneswaran’s resolution that can be controversial are:
Sri Lanka will be a Federal Republic or a Union of States. There will be two states in the country. One will be the North Eastern State inclusive of a Muslim autonomous region. The other state consisting of seven provinces other than the North and East will include an Up- Country autonomous region.
State governments will have state parliaments and the state parliaments will have exclusive right to make laws on subjects devolved on it
The federal representative in the state (governor) will be appointed by the President on the advice of Constitutional Council and the relevant chief minister. He will exercise the power to summon, prorogue or dissolve the state parliament on the advice of the chief minister. The federal parliament will not pass any law pertaining to a subject devolved exclusively on the state government.
There will be a Federal Police Force and a State Police Force and a state IGP will be responsible and accountable to the state government. The state IGP will keep the federal IGP and the State Police Commission informed of relevant administrative matters.
There will be Primary Courts, Magistrate Courts, District Courts, State High Courts, State Court of Appeal and a State Constitutional Court in each State.
Subjects exclusively handled by the Federal (Central) Government are National Security, National, Financial Affairs including currency and foreign exchange, External Affairs (but states shall have the right to appoint one of their representatives to office in embassies) and Economic Affairs (any activity beyond territorial waters) among several others.
Southern politicians are normally incensed with the term ‘federalism’. However, the two main parties have accepted the federal system of government at least once in their recent history. And each political party has its own definition of a federal system. The former Vice President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague Professor C.G.Weeramanthri had once said that the present provincial council system too was a federal system of government. However, the problem lies in the physical form of governance, not in the political terms used to define it.
As far as the Northern Provincial Council’s resolution is concerned, the claim by many southern politicians that the resolution, once implemented would create a separate Tamil State is not totally true. But, it will create a situation that is one step behind a separate Tamil State because if one of the two linguistic states stipulated by Wigneswaran’s resolution decides to unilaterally declare independence, the Central Government would not have powers to prevent it.
In the meantime, the resolution also contains provisions that can kill its very essence. It wants the government and the Tamil leaders to agree on the devolution plan stipulated in the resolution after negotiations, with the participation of representatives of the US, India, EU and Japan. If the Government rejected the devolution plan, it should be possible for the Tamil people to hold a referendum in their areas of historical habitation to decide on their political status.
However, once the resolution is rejected in its totality by the government, the provision for the referendum too would be rejected. Hence, the resolution is self-negating.