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Bait and Switch
Editorial in Tamil Voice, USA
|Bait and switch is a well-worn sales tactic.
Supermarkets use it with bargain-priced items to attract customers. Unscrupulous sidewalk vendors use it, showing one item and then palm off another when the sale is clinched. Fishmongers do it with a display of fresh fish to sell rotten ones.
And now a Sinhala President of Sri Lanka is trying to do it to the Tamils. The package President Kumaratunga tendered on August 31, 1995, after guilefully ousting the LTTE from the political theater, has been swapped. With an apparently innocuous change in the title - from "Proposals for Devolution' to "Legal Formulations for Devolution" - the first of many bait and switch swaps to come has been accomplished.
For example, the August proposals did not give the President the power to dissolve a Regional Council, while the January one does, and that too on as flimsy an excuse as, "if in the opinion of the President, the action or non-action of the Regional Administration is a danger to the sovereignty and unity" of Sri Lanka. In August all use of land was vested in the regional governments, and now the center can acquire any amount of land for any use (for colonization?).
Similarly a variety of other powers vested in the states in the August proposals got usurped by the center when January came. Even the name "Union of Regions" has been changed to "Indissoluble Union of Regions," thereby weakening the federal character of the proposed union.
The August Proposals, although inadequate, were just enough to bait many. Chandrika, however, knew that Prabakaran could not be enticed with it. Hence the elaborate and Prolonged ceremonial ritual of what was called "peace talks" with the LTTE without of course a concrete proposal in black and white. She later admitted that the talks with the LTTE were not conducted with any seriousness.
"We conducted talks on the basis that the LTTE could not agree to any peaceful settlement. - President Kumaratunga (Sri Lanka Sunday Times 20 August 1995) Having thus excluded the LTTE, the bait and switch process has been started, No one knows how many more substitutions and switches are in store for the future. If the pattern of the past holds true, there will be many more.
And then, there is the problem of non-implementation. From the Tamil language (Special Pro-visions) Bill of 1958, to the District Councils Bill, to the provincial Council Act of 1987, non implementation of Parliamentary Acts beneficial to the Tamils has been the norm. A prime example of this phenomenon is how the first and only Chief Minister of the Tamil province, Varadharaja Perumal, begged President Jayawardena for a desk and chair to conduct business, and to no avail!
If this problem is ever going to be settled short of total separation, international mediation, and a committed, neutral, foreign guarantor are absolute necessities.