Sri Lankan Unity Government on a wild goose chase with New Constitution!  

A Nation having experienced the bloody civil war caused by the ethnic conflict knows only too well the root cause was the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people in the fifties, who then opted for a violent separatist agenda. If their expectations are to become a reality then the Unity Government must first acknowledge to the whole nation that the 13th Amendment of the current constitution conceived in haste in 1987 was never implemented properly; then convey, clarify and convince the southern clergy and get their blessings on the need to proceed in earnest with necessary changes to the constitution to re-establish Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic democratic country into a nation at peace with itself by giving maximum devolution to the provinces to meet the genuine grievances of the minorities to enable them to join the Majority population to work on much needed development of the country and therefore preparation of a new constitution is after all is not a wild goose chase for the government.

Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 and for seven decades the Sinhala Far Right rulers having already taken a dominant role during the pre-independence years refused to accept the multi-ethnicity composition of the population in the country; after independence the most affected Sri Lankan Tamils on realising this, made their claim of distinct nationhood based on their right for self-determination founded the Federal Party (FP) and made the call for a federal system of rule in the merged North-East provinces. Sadly, then rulers mistook this democratic move by the Tamils as a separatist activity and pursued to curb them with more discriminatory policies such as the colonisation programme to change the demography of North and East provinces in the favour of the Sinhala majority community. In 1956, the founder of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) gained power on a promise to make the Sinhala as the official language and was voted in as the Prime Minister, who then introduced the Sinhala Only Language policy to the whole country that lead the country to communal riots and to the Emergency ’58 rule. On realizing that it was a hasty act by his government without due consideration of the Tamil speaking minorities, the Prime Minister made a sincere attempt in 1959 to resolve the Tamil Language question, was assassinated by a misled Buddhist monk; first of many assassinations to take place in the country. Thereafter situation deteriorated with rulers taking measures to remove protections provided to the minorities in the first constitution and pursuing policies without accommodating the aspirations of the minorities and the nation gradually disintegrated into many minority based segments. Yet when need arose to form a government in the parliament, past leaders never failed to use the representatives of the minorities; yet these associations never helped to bring the communities together as one nation.

Bitter Truth is such experience does not leave the collective memory of any community easily and the introduction of the first republic constitution pushed the Sri Lankan Tamil community towards separatist tendencies with the formation of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was mandated by the Tamil speaking minorities in the North and East provinces for separation, as per the declaration of the Vaddukkoddai resolution of 1976. This brought more negative response from the Sinhala Far Right rulers, who let loose state terror on unarmed Tamil civilians leading the country to the nationwide disturbances, widely remembered as the Black July Riots of 1983; that saw hundreds of Tamil civilians killed and many more injured, with thousands displaced to the north or fleeing out from various parts of the country with unquantified destruction of properties that deprived the country of any development for many decades. This horror impacted heavily on the Tamils with youths uprisings with fascist tendencies, who retaliated by massacring Sinhala civilians on either side of the north-south border in late 1983, 84 and 85, that saw once more the North South divide that surfaced in ’58 on ethnic lines being fused in the country.

The rulers on realising that with the ethnic conflict the country was heading in the wrong direction in terms of development, made an unenthusiastic attempt to seek a solution to the Tamil question within a unitary state; rejecting this move the Tamil youths responded with the declaration of so-called Thimpu principles.  The determined rulers thereafter attempted in 1987 to supress the Tamil insurgents using the  brutal force of the armed forces that caused the paramilitary warfare to escalate to civil-war; later leading to a cease fire with the intervention of India. The Indo-Lanka Accord was signed and an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) arrived in the country and a half-baked ‘devolution package’ was introduced into the constitution by the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system came into operation for the whole country. Sadly, than providing the devolution demanded by the Tamils it only helped to decentralize power to all the provinces, was a white elephant that no community had demanded and was considered by many as a fruitless exercise. Predictably, the Tamil youths advocating separation took to arms again first fought with the IPKF, helping the government to send them back to India; later waged war with the state forces, that took the country back to the bloody civil-war that lasted over two decades with both sides committing many human right violations both in and off the battlefield. The civil war costing millions of life and many more disabled, with heavy loss of properties with development of the country pushed back by five decades and ruined the economy of the country, before the war was brought to finish in 2009 with the intervention of many nations including India. The conflict impacted the whole island, in particular the poor youths of all communities who fought each other and worst off were the poor Tamil speaking youths turned young men who perished in the battlefield as the guns were silenced in 2009.

After the war ended there was a long period of negative peace years to 2015; as previous regime failed to have a political dialogue with the representatives of the Tamil people that left the Tamil question unanswered. Valuable time was lost without implementing the 13th Amendment, promised to the Indian Government, the architect of the scheme and the regime kept the armed forces fully involved in the civil administration in the merged North-East province. They demerged N-E province and held separate elections that gave TNA the opportunity to bounce back as the sole representatives of the Tamils in the two provinces.  Clearly winning the war went to the head of the rulers and by their inaction lost the support of India; the rulers then began leaning towards China, who fully exploited it to their own advantage and this international strategy only worked against the regime in the eye of India and many western nations. Internationally the previous regime lost the support of India in 2012 having been a strong ally in 2009 at UNHRC in Geneva, when the human right violations during the last stages of the civil war was taken for debate against Sri Lanka. Another development in the country was the rampant increase in corruption at all levels during the negative peace years and breakdown of law and order in the war torn areas. This sent a clear message to the international community that the Sinhala Far Right regime was against any form of territorial autonomy for the Tamils nor devolution within a unitary state in any concrete form. As anticipated these unhappy nations, extended their support to civil groups in the country to motivate the people to change the government; it materialised at the first opportunity presented in 2015 where the people voted out the President, who as the head of state decided to call for the Presidential Election two years ahead of schedule. At the General Election that followed in the same year people voted for a New Unity Government formed by the two main political parties United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) working together for the first time with few minority parties.

Today with the legislature turned into constitution assembly opportunity exist to modify the 13th Amendment in full as necessary by removing any constraints in it; with the TNA representing the Tamils in the North-East willing to work with the original 13th Amendment that includes for merger of provinces modified as necessary into a full devolution package and with other necessary reforms to arrive at a viable political solution to the Tamil question is a welcome development to draw up a new constitution. Achievable if the New Unity Government could out play the Far-Right political forces on either side of the North-South divide, who are yet not wanting to solve the Tamil question for reasons of their own and are determined to derail the whole process.