ISGA bashing: Much ado about nothing
25 August 2004
"..The ISGA, by and large, is
a four-letter word in the south. It agitates many. It is an
irritant to many more. All this is much ado about nothing.
The ceasefire is the only tangible reality of the peace
process. All talk about talks is empty rhetoric.All those
who do not accept this fact are either scoundrels who are
using the chance to push their own ulterior agendas or are
genuinely misguided gulls who sincerely believe that things
would start moving in the right direction if only the Tigers
and the UPFA sit across the negotiating table. The ISGA,
like all and sundry proposals and plans prepared and
submitted by the Tamils since 1978, cannot be implemented
neither in part nor in full, come what may. It has been
demonstrated ad nauseam and beyond all reasonable doubt that
even an iota of regional autonomy for the Tamils beyond what
has been granted under the
13th Amendment to the constitution is absolutely
"Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went"
- Omar Khayyam (Rubaiyat. Edward Fitzgerald translation)
Reams have been written against the Interim Self Governing Authority
proposal submitted by the Liberation Tigers. The JVP has been
campaigning consistently against it. The Jathika Hela Urumuya too
has been excoriating the proposal. Kadirgamar sought to alarm the
Sinhala people and probably the world by saying the ISGA is a blue
print for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. And many find his
argument very persuasive.
The JVP has found in the ISGA a convenient means to take forward its
political mobilisation to another level, steadily cutting grass
under the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's feet. The
ISGA, by and large, is a four-letter word in the south. It
agitates many. It is an irritant to many more. All this is much ado
about nothing. The ceasefire is the only tangible reality of the
peace process. All talk about talks is empty rhetoric.All those who
do not accept this fact are either scoundrels who are using the
chance to push their own ulterior agendas or are genuinely misguided
gulls who sincerely believe that things would start moving in the
right direction if only the Tigers and the UPFA sit across the
negotiating table. The ISGA, like all and sundry proposals and plans
prepared and submitted by the Tamils since 1978, cannot be
implemented neither in part nor in full, come what may.
It has been demonstrated ad nauseam and beyond all reasonable doubt
that even an iota of regional autonomy for the Tamils beyond what
has been granted under the
13th Amendment to the constitution is absolutely impossible.
Only a pathological optimist would argue otherwise.
Even the 13th Amendment for setting up the Provincial Council system
was enforced virtually at gunpoint when India threatened invasion.
The amendment escaped the scrutiny of the Supreme Court by the skin
of its teeth as it were. I have pointed out many times in these
columns that all those who still pontificate on devolving power in
Sri Lanka should peruse the dissenting report from the panel of
Supreme Court judges who examined whether the 13th Amendment's
provisions were consistent with the constitution.
The Northeast Provincial Council (NEPC) remains a stark reminder of
how any kind of devolution is inevitably doomed to fail in Sri
Lanka. Today it is nothing more than a pathetic implementing agency
for the World Bank and Asian Development Bank funded projects in the
Many writers, intellectuals, politicians and opinion makers here,
who argue that India should be roped in to cage the Tiger, fail to
understand a very important thing. When India says that it burnt its
fingers in Sri Lanka, it is not referring only to the war it fought
with the Tigers - Delhi also has in mind the bitter lesson it learnt
about devolution in Sri Lanka after it signed the Indo-Lanka
Agreement in 1987.
India found that culturally, legally and technically any meaningful
devolution is impossible in this country.
This is best illustrated in a little-known episode of the Indian
intervention in Sri Lanka recounted by D.R. Karthikeyan .
In June 1989 India's powerful Cabinet secretary, T.N. Sheshan,
summoned D.R. Karthikeyan, who had just assumed duties as Inspector
General of the Central Reserve Police Force (Southern Sector), and
sent him on an urgent fact finding mission to Sri Lanka.
Sheshan explained the mission's mandate thus: "We want to know what
is the ground situation in the northern and eastern parts of Sri
Lanka where the conflict is going on. What is the morale of the
Indian forces? Why is there no end in sight for the war?
"The Sri Lankan government told us that in pursuance of the
Indo-Lanka Accord, they effected the 13th Amendment to their
constitution, after which enormous powers have been delegated to the
newly created North-Eastern Province with headquarters in
Trincomalee. But the LTTE and other groups contend that no
devolution has taken place to the Tamil province, despite the
assurance of Rajiv Gandhi to Prabhakaran that the newly created
North-Eastern Province for Tamils will enjoy as much power as Tamil
Nadu enjoys in India. Besides these, whatever else you may find
relevant may also be reported", Sheshan told Karthikeyan who had
never been to Sri Lanka before. Karthikeyan toured the northeast
extensively, spoke to Indian army officers and Jawans, Provincial
Council officials, civilians from many walks of life, leaders of the
EPRLF, TELO, EROS, ENDLF, academics etc.,
In the report he submitted to the Cabinet Secretary after concluding
his mission, Karthikeyan summed up his findings on the devolution of
powers to the North-Eastern Provincial Council as follows:
"An on the spot assessment conclusively establishes that devolution
of powers under law and order is particularly nil, and even under
other heads, devolution is very little. The 13th Amendment to the
constitution of Sri Lanka was intended to devolve powers to the
North-Eastern Provincial Council as part of implementation of the
Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The 13th Amendment has provided for
incomplete devolution, and even those incomplete powers have not
actually devolved to the Council so far. The inescapable impression
one gets is that matters are being delayed on technical grounds,
hoping eventually to deny everything with the expectation of a
possible change in the political scenario in the north-east".
Karthikeyan's words were prophetic. I hope that local readers would
not miss the significance of the fact that he has included the
account of this mission to Sri Lanka as a kind of epilogue to his
book 'Triumph of Truth: Rajiv Gandhi Assasination - The
Karthikeyan's report to Sheshan explains one of the basic reasons
why India is very cautiously avoiding any direct or indirect
involvement in the current peace process. India's only concern here
today, as is often stated in communiqués from Delhi, is to ensure
that the Sri Lankan government excludes external forces from getting
'unduly' involved in the peace process. But above all, it is another
indubitable proof that devolution is impossible in Sri Lanka.
Let us assume, for argument's sake, that the Tigers and the Sri
Lankan government actually sit down for talks on the ISGA. At the
end of the day when both sides ultimately finish arguing, splitting
hairs, coaxing, strategising and the like at great expense, they
would be back to square one - how to implement what they have agreed
An agreement between the government and opposition, underwritten by
a third country to ensure the two thirds majority in Parliament is
not enough for implementing the solution. A referendum is a must.
Before all this could actually get off the ground it would be time
for the next Presidential elections.
Then the idea of devolution, leave alone the ISGA, would be stomped
to oblivion in the scramble for the Presidential stakes.
Therefore, all the vehement arguments against the ISGA and all the
rallies, marches, fiery speeches and agitations against it are an
absolute waste of time.
If this truth is grasped in time, then the people might begin to see
that the cease-fire is fast collapsing.
There will be a political vacuum in the ethnic relations of this
country as long as devolution is a non-starter, a mere word in the
south. Despite the balance of forces, the cease-fire cannot survive
for long in this political vacuum.