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Home >Tamils: a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution: Tamil Eelam  Sri Lanka > Why a Federal Set up is infeasible (in the Island of Lanka)


Why a Federal Set up is infeasible
(in the Island of Lanka)

Suntharam, 18 September 2007 

Comment by tamilnation.org Suntharam is right to point out the infeasibility of a federal set up in the island of Sri Lanka. There is however one matter on which we disagree. Suntharam says that ".. the world kept believing that the island is ruled democratically with justice for all ethnic groups simply because elections are held, however preordained, to bring, equally predictably, obdurate Sinhala politicians to the seats of iron clad power which might pass from one Sinhala party to another thus producing another illusion of democracy in the island..."

In our view, the world is not stupid. It may be unwise for us to believe that the world does not see that which we can see. It is not that the world does not see the truth of that which the Gandhian Tamil Eelam leader, S.J.V.Chelvanayagam declared more than 30 years ago in 1975.

"Throughout the ages the Sinhalese and Tamils in the country lived as distinct sovereign people till they were brought under foreign domination... We have for the last 25 years made every effort to secure our political rights on the basis of equality with the Sinhalese in a united Ceylon. It is a regrettable fact that successive Sinhalese governments have used the power that flows from independence to deny us our fundamental rights and reduce us to the position of a subject people. These governments have been able to do so only by using against the Tamils the sovereignty common to the Sinhalese and the Tamils. I wish to announce to my people and to the country that I consider the verdict at this election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free."

After all, the 1981 Massachusetts Resolution did declare that "successive Sinhala governments have been guilty of racism and acts of racial discrimination against the Tamils in the fields of education, employment, religion, politics,  economic development and trade" and then call for "the Restoration of the Separate Sovereign State of Tamil Eelam."  But the 1981 Massachusetts Resolution  was a cynical exercise in real politick directed to help US keep its oars in the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka.

"..The rise of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka and the Jayawardene government's serious apprehensions about this development were utilised by the US and Pakistan to create a politico-strategic pressure point against India, in the island's strategically sensitive coast off the Peninsula of India..." Jyotindra Nath Dixit , Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka 1985 /89, Foreign Secretary in 1991/94 and National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of India 2004/05

The harsh political reality is that states choose to believe that which will help them secure their own strategic interests. It is not that they do not have the resources to ascertain the true facts. It is not that they are misled by 'clever Sri Lanka' (a la Lakshman Kadirgamar et al). In the case of the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, the actions of the so called international community are directed to secure each of their own (conflicting)  strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region. [see Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom: Some Aspects of the International Dimension ] It is this political reality that we as a people need to confront and address.

Otherwise we will continue to confuse ourselves by believing  that all that needs to be done is to wake up the international community to the facts and the justice of our cause and all will be well. This is the limitation of some of our current discourse. It is a limitation that we need to transcend. Mamanithar Dharmeretnam Sivaram was right to point out four years ago in 2003 -

"..Today it is clear beyond all reasonable doubt that India and the US-UK-Japan Bloc are trying to influence and manage Sri Lanka's peace process to promote and consolidate their respective strategic and economic interests... From 1983 to 86, it was taboo among Tamils to propagate the truth that India was exploiting their cause to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka. The few who dared to speak about India's hegemonistic designs were admonished not to be too rash lest we provoke Delhi's ire and cause a disruption in the weapons handouts by the RAW....The price the Tamil liberation movement as a whole had to pay for not educating the people about the truth of India's intentions was high. At this juncture, even a doddering dullard would find the deja vu inescapable...The Tamil nation cannot afford to make the same mistake again... "

The Tamil nation cannot afford to make the same mistake again. Otherwise in the same way as the Massachusetts Resolution sought to use Tamil suffering to further US strategic interests in 1981, and India sought to use Tamil militancy in the 1980s to destabilise Colombo, we may now see a concerted effort by US and India (together with the help of  UN mechanisms) to use the suffering and pain of the Tamil people as a lever,  to secure a more pliable Colombo in the face of the increasing presence of China in the Indian Ocean region. And after the strategic interests of the so called international community are secured, we may end up with something similar to the Comic Opera Reforms which were offered under the Indo Sri Lanka Accord - with a Governor appointed by the Sinhala President, ruling the Tamil homeland.  Shyam Saran,  Special Envoy to Indian Prime Minister, & Indian Foreign Secretary 2004 - 2006 explained India's current foreign policy with forthrightness in Singapore  on 30 August 2007 -

"...We are already in a world of what I would call "asymmetric multipolarity" with the asymmetry progressively diminishing over a period of time. India has an instinctive preference for multipolarity.. On the other hand, there will be issues on which there could well be coalitions of powers whose interests may be convergent on specific issues."

Suntharam is right to point out that the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam is not about devolution. Devolution is about devolving from the higher to the lower. The higher is the ruler and the lower is the ruled. Alien rulers are not slow to offer (from time to time)  'consultation' and 'devolution' as ways of pacifying their subjects, perpetuating their rule,  and progressing the 'peaceful' assimilation of a conquered people.The short point is that the deliberate genocidal attacks on the people of Tamil Eelam are directed to terrorise the Tamil people to submit to alien Sinhala rule. The conflict in the island is about  the refusal of the people of Tamil Eelam to submit to alien Sinhala rule, within the confines of a single state with a  Sinhala army in command in the Tamil homeland. The charge is genocide - but the struggle is for freedom. And it is this twin message that we, as a people, need to carry to the world. Each one of us is an ambassador of a struggle for freedom. We need to engage with those who may not agree with us on the justice of that which S.J.V. Chelvanayagam declared in 1975 (and the State of Maschachusetts proclaimed in 1981) and discuss openly with them the strategic interests which their countries seek to secure in the Indian Ocean region - and in what way those strategic interests have impacted on the evaluation of the justice and righteousness of the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom. We may need to point out that views such as those expressed by former US Ambassador Lunstead in United States Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006 are at odds with the facts.

�..With the end of the Cold War, U.S. interest in Sri Lanka waned. As recently as 2000, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was planning for significantly reduced development assistance levels. The enhanced engagement that commenced in 2001 occurred despite the absence of significant U.S. strategic interests in Sri Lanka. Political-military interests are not high, and the U.S. has no interest in military bases in Sri Lanka." United States Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006, Jeffrey Lunstead, 15 May 2007

We may need to express our concern that such denials are simply a cover up for strategic interests which may be denied but cannot be hidden -

n�..US Marines will conduct exercises with the Sri Lanka Navy later this month, deploying more than 1,000 personnel and support ships for amphibious and counter-insurgency manoeuvres with the aim of 'containing' growing Chinese presence in the region and to test its latest theories on 'littoral battle' without putting American soldiers at risk�� US - India - China - Sri Lanka - Pakistan: Matrix - Rahul Bedi, 25 October 2006

It is true that it is difficult to wake up those who pretend to be asleep - but, it is not impossible. They usually wake up when they find that increasing numbers of people find that their sleep is no longer credible.

By saying �infeasible� I am implying that I am more pessimistic than if I just said it is not workable or any agreement with the Sinhala government will not be honestly implemented or that the negotiations will break down or that such a solution will not even be devolved to the Tamil nation. I am in fact saying all these - based on the more than fifty years of degenerate Sinhala attitudes.

Mr Rajapakse, the president of Sri Lanka unequivocally confirmed and endorsed this in his recent interview to a news organization when he said that he was elected by the Sinhalese and the Sinhalese do not want anything to do with a federal solution to the long drawn ethnic conflict.

How prescient and what an astute observer of the Sinhala nature Prabakharan was! And what a smart gambit it was when he admonished the Tamils about the futility of voting for a Sinhala President! He wanted the interested world to know the mentality of the Sinhala South, what an unblended Sinhala electorate is like and what kind of �supreme� leader they would elect. He has been amply confirmed in his expectations. 

The two nation situation is the reality; the Sinhala nation in the south and the Tamil nation in the north/east; that in the government the Sinhala nation unilaterally and arbitrarily decides and acts as to how much oppression that the Tamils should be subjected to, how the resources of the Tamil nation are be appropriated for the benefit of the Sinhala nation among other deprivations and depredations of the Tamil Nation.

And the world kept believing that the island is ruled democratically with justice for all ethnic groups simply because elections are held, however preordained, to bring, equally predictably, obdurate Sinhala politicians to the seats of iron clad power which might pass from one Sinhala party to another thus producing another illusion of democracy in the island. 

While the JVP and JHU are avowedly anti-Tamil, sworn to the destruction of the Tamil Nation, because of its pro-west policies, the UNP leaderships� Tamil-baiting history was ignored by the international community.

By joining last week the rest of the Sinhala parties in expressing firm support for the destructive war against the Tamils the UNP has not only displayed its true historic proclivities but also has proved to the world the unbridgeable and intrinsic divide between the Tamil Nation and the Sinhala nation. Therefore, the �unitary state� of Sri Lanka is an imperial idea pervading the minds of the Sinhala and finds no correspondence in the islands ethnic reality.

Understandably, the �unitary state� is absolute anathema to the Tamil nation and will be resisted tooth and nail; lest it should in all probability result in the crystallization of the present the subjugation of the Tamils and a loss of all they value and possess and rapid extinction as a nation. 

What then, one thinks of the proposal of a pseudo federal solution, evidently unauthorized by those in power, which is touted, off and on, as is the practice just as the half-hearted and muted �concern� expressed by the international players? It is more a red-herring than a sop and it is going nowhere for the reasons that I produce in the following.  

1. The politics of Sri Lanka is, in practice, an ethnic dictatorship by the Sinhala in democracy�s clothing. The dominant characteristic of a dictatorship is, by definition, to not even deign to devolve power. Holding on to power, absolute power, is its raison d'�tre. Absolute power entails all the power not only in the minutiae executive matters of the state but also in every other area such as legislative, judiciary, financial, defence, etc. Controlling is the means to forestall any diminution of power, perceived or real. Thus:


i. Tamils have to be strictly controlled

ii. All institutions of legislation, finance, defence, etc have to be answerable to the Sinhala 

Individual dictators eventually die and the dictatorship may die with him; but not so with ethnic dictatorship. Dictatorships get more oppressive with time as is the case in Sri Lanka. Dictatorships normally do not concede power voluntarily; they have to be ended forcibly. 

2. Polls in Sri Lanka confirm the fact of ethnic dictatorship. In the last poll only 5% of Sinhala support a federal constitution, even that with caveats. Thus, changing the existing constitution through a referendum by two-thirds majority is a political impossibility. 

3. Even if one assumes that by discarding the existing constitution and making a fresh start one obviates the need to observe the provisions of the old constitution, the decision to dispense with the existing constitution has to be taken by the Sinhala legislature and sustained by the Sinhala judiciary, not to mention the referendum. 

4. If by some miracle a constitutional change is made accommodating a �federal� form of government, in any such arrangement the fact of the almost unique �bi-state� configuration in which one member of the federation (the Sinhala south) which in the present unitary government having exercised hegemonic power which has been the root cause of the conflict the federal form is meant to heal, must be kept uppermost in mind. That is, the North East should have indefeasible protection, constitutional and otherwise, from the South reverting to the current practice either through default or ambiguities latent or otherwise in the constitution or by reneging as the South is famous for. Therefore, constitutionally


i.    There must be equal representation of the two federal states in all institutions of the central government

ii.   The weaker of the two states, viz, the North/East should maintain its armed strength in order to protect its constitutional rights being violated or vitiated by the other state.

 These two provisos should be held as non-negotiable in any political modus Vivendi both parties agree upon. Even as we recognize that �federal� is not inscribed in stone and that it is a political term and as such it is amenable to the �art of the possible�, Tamils must strive to ensure that the sins of the Sinhala unitary state are not smuggled into the federal arrangement too. 

There is talk in the Sinhala political hierarchy about �power sharing� without change of structure, a kind of amorphous trickle-down vision in which all power is dispensed from high above by the Sinhala overlords and the Tamils squat down cupping their hands to accept the drip. That is �for the birds� of the feather like Anandasangree, �Douglas� and Karuna. We Tamils have experienced that travesty of democracy for more than fifty years! 

This is not to say even if the above strictures are adhered to that I am advocating a federal form, without further delineation of the configuration of political powers as between the two states. What one must bear in mind is that the Tamils, at this stage of the struggle, are not asking to be associated with the Sinhala state in a federal arrangement and most certainly not in the opprobrious unitary, almost colonial relationship.

Thus I consider the condescending term �devolution� objectionable. It is the Sinhala state that wants an association with the Tamil Nation and the question that naturally arises is, �for whose benefit-quo bono?� Clearly if there is to be a sanction by the Tamil Nation for any political relationship with the Sinhala nation it is neither to satisfy the hegemonic craving of the Sinhala nation nor to surrender the Tamil Nation�s ancestral land and heritage to a rapacious race of people.

It would be only because there would be secure, tangible benefits accruing to the Tamil Nation. For that to be the case the following matters have to be resolved in the context of two autonomous nations sharing the island territory. Namely, 

1.     Restitution of land of the Tamil nation in the East colonized by the Sinhala at the expense of the Tamils as part of the GOSL schemes since independence

2.     Control of the sea and air of the national territories

3.     Raising of Finance externally

4.     Economic Policies and development

5.     Control of immigration and emigration

6.     Status of Sinhala in the Tamil Nation and Tamil in the Sinhala nation

7.     Status of Buddhism in the Tamil Nation and Saivaism in the Sinhala nation

8.     Existing GOSL debts

9.     �Disappeared� Tamil civilians

10. �Reparations� for destruction of property and degradation of the environment in occupied territory

11. Compensation for civilians killed in occupied territory

12. Compensation for civilians evicted from areas for the purpose of the so called High Security Zones

13. Extraction of minerals, including oil from land and sea bed

14. Existing international agreements affecting each nation

15. Currency

16. Aviation (civil and military)

17. Borders and border control

18. Foreign Investments 

The Muslim factor: The Muslims now are getting along famously with the Sinhala, some Tamils say ruefully, on the backs of the Tamils. Well, so are some non-Muslim Tamils. Not only that these non-Muslim Tamils, in association with the Sinhala army, are committing on a daily basis large scale murders of their own brethren. But as far as the Muslims are concerned, to the extent they are willing to be part of the Tamil Nation, which the rest of the Tamils consider they are, there is a niche for them in the Tamil Nation. Historically they have played their political cards adroitly and, if anything, they are very flexible. 

Any model of federal or quasi federal form of government which is practiced in a multi-state political environment such as in India as touted by such bankrupt politicians as Anandasangaree will not work for the Tamils in a two-state milieu such as would be in the island of Sri Lanka considering the numerical preponderance and the history of intolerance of one of the two nations. The Sinhala nation, as they are now, would be the judge, jury and the executioner.


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