ABOLISH THE PROVINCIAL COUNCILS
(1998 July 22)
The Sinhala Commission, it appears, has recommended the abolition of the Provincial Councils. This is in contrary to what they said in their interim report submitted in September last year, and is a step in the right direction. It seems that they have also concluded that the British government should apologise and pay compensation to the Sinhala people for the injustices they have done to the latter and for violating the 1815 convention. As a person who advocated the above before the commission, I would naturally be delighted to see them being ratified by the commissioners. I shall leave the issue of the compensation and the apology for the time being and concentrate on the abolition of the provincial councils.
The government has not yet announced officially the postponement of the elections to the provincial councils. It may be that some members of the cabinet are against postponing the elections or may be that the government is considering the outcome of an eventual challenge of its decision, before the supreme court. However Mr. Anuruddha Ratwatte is very clear as to what he wants and recently had said that he should not be held responsible if something goes wrong with the Jayasikuru operation as a result of withdrawing army personnel to provide security at the elections. Postponing and vacillating in taking decisions has been a characteristic of this government, which has helped an opposition that in turn has no strong leadership.
As neither the government nor the opposition is keen to have provincial council elections it gives us a good opportunity to reflect on the very existence of the provincial councils. Now that the Sinhala Commission has apparently recommended abolishing the provincial councils the political parties which represent the interests of the Sinhala people should start a campaign in order to achieve this objective.
The provincial councils were established under the thirteenth amendment to the constitution. It was the Indian government, which forced the provincial councils on us on the model of the state governments in India. The overwhelming majority of the Sinhala people opposed the provincial councils. The thirteenth amendment was passed in the parliament under emergency and curfew, without giving the people any opportunity to raise their voices against the bill. There was a press censorship at that time and some of those who parade today as paragons of virtue were instrumental in implementing those draconian measures.
The J. R. Jayawardane government and the Tamil racists hailed the thirteenth amendment as the solution to the so-called ethnic problem. They said that there would be peace after the establishment of the provincial councils. However there was no peace and the Tamil racists were soon competing among them to ask for more ‘devolution’. (They will stop demanding more and more power only after they achieve their final objective of a separate state). There is a school of thought which justifies the strategy of the Tamil racists with the ‘profound’ argument, which defies logic, that the latter were compelled to ask for more as the provincial councils were not given the powers they were entitled to. This is not true, as the policy of the Sri Lanka Tamil State Party (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi - ITAK) of Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam has always been " little now and more later", as revealed by Mr. A. J. Wilson in his book on Chelvanayakam. If the provincial councils were not given the powers that they were entitled to by the thirteenth amendment and if it was the solution to the ‘ethnic problem’, then what the Tamil racists should have done was to start a campaign to win over those powers to the provincial councils and not to ask for more power. By demanding more power they are only continuing with the ITAK policy of ‘little now and more later’.
The thirteenth amendment is not the solution to the ethnic problem for the simple reason that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. A non-existing problem has no solutions. The problem in this case is the ‘solution’ itself. The ‘solution’ is a step in the direction of Eelam, which the Tamil racists want to establish. Their so-called aspiration, since the beginning of the second phase of Tamil racism in the forties, has been a federal state followed by a separate state. (Please refer An Introduction to Tamil Racism in Sri Lanka) The grievances were created in order to justify the aspiration (objective). It is not a case of graduating from grievances to aspirations as claimed by some, but a matter of aspirations without grievances, from the very beginning.
In the second phase of Tamil racism, the Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam (B-C) pact was the first step towards a federal state. Then came the Dudley – Chelvanayakam pact, the various pacts the Tamil racist parties entered into with the UNP and the SLFP (with or without its Marxist and other allies), and the District Development Councils. The provincial councils, and the regional councils envisaged in the G. L. – Neelan ‘political package’, belong to the third phase of Tamil racism begun in the seventies. However, the politics of the second phase did not come to an with the beginning of the third phase and the provincial and regional councils have been worked out by the political uncles and cousins of Prabhakaran, who continue to hang on to the politics of the previous phase. The characteristic of the second phase and the politics of uncles and cousins of Prabhakaran can be summarised by ‘Federal state first and then Eelam’. All the so-called solutions from the B-C pact to the G. L.- Neelan package have been the results of this strategy.
The politics of the third phase of Tamil racism, which began with Prabhakaran and the others, differs from that of the second phase only in one respect. Prabhakaran and company will not opt for a federal state. They want Eelam in one stage while the Tamil racists who cling to the second phase politics are satisfied with Eelam in two stages. In the third phase of Tamil racism two brands of politics exist simultaneously. Prabhakaran will never agree to anything other than Eelam. The provincial councils and the regional councils are not for him.
The Tamil racists who want to establish an Eelam in two stages accepted the provincial councils forced on the JRJ government by the Rajiv Gandhi government. Unlike Sri Lanka India had never been a unitary state before the British conquered the sub continent. In fact there has never been a country called India, before the British came. The British India they created is no more, and instead there are three separate independent states, the present India being one of them. Even the present India has not been a single country in the past and the Indian leaders had no option but to adapt a (semi) federal constitution.
In Sri Lanka the situation is entirely different. We have been an eksesath (unitary) state for about two thousand years and the Sinhala people have been a nation for almost the entirety of that period. Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam himself has admitted that the Tamils have not been a nation (see Wilson on Chelvanayakam). However the Tamil racists do not accept that position now and claim that the Tamils are a separate nation who have lived for thousands of years in their traditional homeland, which constitute the eastern and the northern provinces (demarcated by the British!). They have created a mythical history of the so-called Tamil nation and want to establish a separate state either in one stage or two stages.
Those who opt for a Tamil Eelam in two stages want the government to devolve more and more power to the eastern and the northern provinces, in order to establish first a federal state. The provincial councils were established in order to fulfil this aspiration and it is inherent that they would be followed by the regional councils. In turn, the regional councils will be the stepping stone to a separate state. Any devolution of power, which is proposed as a solution to the ‘grievances’ or ‘historical injustices’ caused to the Tamils, is nothing but a step in the direction of a Tamil Eelam. As such all these forms of devolution have to be opposed and in particular the thirteenth amendment which established the provincial councils has to be repealed. The thirteenth amendment is an injustice caused to the Sinhala people by the power hungry politicians of the opposition who now pretend to be their saviours. The question has to be asked from the UNP. Do you or do you not accept the recommendation of the Sinhala Commission to repeal the thirteenth amendment?
The problem is not the ‘injustices’ or the ‘grievances’ of the Tamils. It is the problem of Tamil racism created by the British. As I have already mentioned, the British equated a nation to an ethnic community; they equated two thousand years of history of a nation which created a unique culture in this country to two hundred rears of history of an ethnic community; they equated more than seventy five percent to less than ten percent of the population. That is the historical injustice and that was caused to the Sinhala people and not to the Tamils. This, however, does not mean that two individuals are not equal before the law irrespective of their race, cast, religion or gender. It only means that cultures and histories cannot be equated arbitrarily. After all in Britain, Anglo Saxon culture is not equated with, say, the Arabic culture although many Arabs own many things in England.
Let the PA, UNP, JVP, the New Left Alliance and the NGO’s debate on the issue of holding the provincial council elections. The political parties and the others who are of the opinion that the thirteenth amendment is an injustice caused to the Sinhala people should start a campaign to abolish the provincial councils.