The Government and the TNA have not served their collective cause well. The former now claims that the negotiations team represented only the SLFP leader of the ruling UPFA coalition. The TNA on the other hand continues to indicate that it represented all Tamil-speaking people, and would want this established and officially acknowledged by the Government before they join the PSC process.
The Government may have added to the Tamils’ suspicions through universal initiatives for activating the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). By reducing the status of the team led by Minister G L Peiris as representative of the SLFP leader of the ruling UPFA and not that of the Government, it may have added to the confusion.
Yet, Minister Rauff Hakeem’s intervention at this crucial stage should remain ‘em all that there was more to the negotiations process than the TNA’s demands. This is as much true of the North as the East -- and the rest of the country. References to the recommendations of the forgotten All-Party Representative Committee (APRC), if any, do not touch upon the legitimate aspirations of the Upcountry Tamils, either.
They are all Tamil-speaking as the Northern Tamils, and have faced worse discrimination, both from within and outside of the larger community that they all collectively belong to. A PSC thus holds the answer, given that all denominations of the Tamil-speaking population are as divided as their Sinhala counterparts and a common ground has to be found if the nation has to proceed with a political solution to the ‘national problem’.
News reports quoting Cabinet spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s appeal for the TNA to join the PSC says that the latter was clinging on to three controversial issues of concern to national security -- namely, merger, police and land powers. He seemed to be indicating a way out of some or all of it when he referred to the Indian constitutional powers of the Centre for dismissing elected State Governments and dissolve the State Assemblies concerned.
It is not only that the Tamil Provinces in Sri Lanka could be construed as a threat to national security. The South witnessed a series of threats, starting with an aborted coup attempt in the Sixties, followed by the two JVP insurgencies in successive decades. Whatever thus may be construed as applicable to the Tamil Provinces thus addresses larger national concerns. Yet, in the fitness of things, any solution of the Indian kind should also provide for constitutional guarantees of the kind, both Indian and Sri Lankan.
Thus, Sri Lanka could consider the Indian judicial pronouncement for mandatory review of the Centre’s decisions in matters of dismissal of State Governments and dissolution of State Assemblies within a fixed time-frame (‘S R Bommai case’, 1994). It could also extend the existing constitutional provisions nearer home for emergency provisions to be approved by Parliament on a monthly basis.
Land power is less complicated than made out to be by either side. While devolving those powers to the Provinces, the Government should remember that the same would also be applicable to the Provinces outside of the Tamil-speaking regions. ‘Merger’ is a different issue, where an existing Supreme Court decision comes in the way, and the Sri Lankan scheme does not provide for a constitutional way out. The pre-Federal Party mood of the East and the distinguishing demographic distribution in the East has a role, too.
In a way, the TNA and the SLFP may represent the ‘soul’ of the respective populations for now. They are not the ‘sole representatives’ at any time. In the era of late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the nation was witness to a disenfranchised leader returning as Prime Minister. Before the TNA, there were others, after it there could be others. The SLFP’s position derives exclusively from electoral results. In Sri Lanka since Independence, it has had a nasty habit of upsetting the incumbent every now and again.
The Tamil community also needs to remember that their ‘soul-leaders’ have always thought like the Opposition and acted like the Opposition, too. For them to think and act as the party in power would involve cultural shocks and adjustments. It would be harder than they could perceive, if at all anyone is doing that at the moment. It is all about perceptions even otherwise, and all sides need to perceive those perceptions, to begin with.