(1998 August 12)

Last week in an exclusive interview with PTI journalist Mr. K. J. M. Varma, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has said, "she was ready to talk to the LTTE even tomorrow if it agrees to give up the demand for a separate state (Eelam)". She has also expressed "her willingness to accept third party facilitation in this regard".

On the subject of the "devolution package" the President has said that "her government had finally found 'devious means' to get the constitutional backing without violating the law". She has further said, "so now we have to find devious means of getting round strict constitutional provision without being illegal or undemocratic". In an earlier interview the President has told Reuters that "there are means of circumventing the UNP opposition" to the draft constitution. However she has declined to give details and has said "that is a state secret".

These two interviews raise a number of questions. Let us first consider the willingness of Ms. Kumaratunga to accept third party facilitation with respect to talks with the LTTE. The LTTE has on number of occasions said that it is prepared to give up Eelam only if a confederation is offered as the alternative. But a confederation happens to be a loose association of two states and once a confederation is established there is no way of stopping the LTTE declaring a separate state. The LTTE knows that too well. The recent experience in connection with the confederation formed after the Soviet Union collapsed is a case in point.

On the other hand LTTE as well as the other Tamil racist parties insist on certain non-negotiable conditions such as the acceptance of the Tamils as a separate nation, the self-determination of the Tamils and the homeland concept. This means that if Ms. Kumaratunga agrees to have talks with the LTTE then she has to first accept these conditions. Any talks will start with these conditions as the bottom line. Does Ms. Kumaratunga think that the Sinhala people are agreeable to these conditions? On the contrary they are against these Tamil racist demands which have no historical or any other basis.

The position of the majority of the Sinhala people [not the NGO members, ex- Marxists parading as human rights missionaries, the SLFPers following the policies of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) under the leadership of Ms. Kumaratunga etc.,] is very clear on this matter. It can be summarised in the following manner. The Tamils are not a nation. They have never been a nation at any time anywhere in the world. In Sri Lanka the Tamils are an ethnic group, as they are in India. In fact, it was none other than Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, who said that the Tamils have to act as a nation.

The Tamil homeland concept is a myth that has been exploded by eminent people such as Messrs. Gamini Iriyagolla, Dennis Fernando and Prof. G. H. (not to be confused with G. L.) Peiris. The majority of the Tamils live outside the Eastern and Northern Provinces, the so-called Tamil homeland demarcated by the British in 1889, and the position of the majority of Sinhala people is that the whole of Sri Lanka is the homeland of all citizens of the country. Has Ms. Kumaratunga decided to ignore the view of the majority of the Sinhala people? Does she think that she can throttle the Sinhala opinion in the same manner she hijacked the SLFP with the SLMP policies?

Sinhala people did not vote for a PA dominated by a SLMP. They voted for a PA whom they thought was led by a SLFPer in the person of the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bandaranaike. It must be emphasised that at least the Sinhala version of the manifesto of the PA at the general elections held in 1994 said that the executive and the legislative power would be brought back to the parliament. This can be interpreted only in one way. It implied that there would be no devolution of power in any form and that the provincial councils would be abolished. I will come back to this point later.

The third party facilitation has to be rejected. Can anybody think of a truly neutral country that can act as a third party? We cannot certainly have the western countries that have baptised and nurtured Tamil racism. India has been too involved to be considered as neutral. In any case what is the role that a third party has to play? More important than that, in agreeing to have talks, is the President going to give into the so-called non-negotiable conditions? With or without third party there should not be any talks with the LTTE. The previous talks with the LTTE have only worsened the situation. Negotiations should commence only after the Tamil racist parties give up their so-called aspirations. It is a question of Tamils, who have been misled by their English educated racist leaders, learning to live as an ethnic community retaining their identity, without any claims to nationhood.

Next we come to the question of "devious means of getting round strict constitutional provision" that the President has told the foreign correspondents. What is meant by strict constitutional provision? Whether strict or not one cannot get around constitutional provision. The President has to be reminded that the rules can be bent sometimes but not the law, especially the constitution, which is the supreme law of the country. The constitution can be amended or repealed and replaced with a new constitution, either constitutionally or through a political revolution.

I can understand if the President talked of an interpretation of the constitution. But she has told the foreign correspondents that the government has found out "devious means of getting round strict constitutional provision" in order to overcome any opposition from the UNP. These devious means, which remain state secret at the moment, cannot be anything but unconstitutional. The President in desperation to satisfy the Tamil racists is thinking of unconstitutional means to get the G.L. - Neelan constitution adopted.

Fortunately or unfortunately the country has not experienced a successful political revolution though there have been people who attempted to capture power through revolutions, insurrections, coup, and other devious means. Even 1956 was not a political revolution. 1994 cannot be even dreamt to be a political revolution. The only 'revolution' we experienced then was Dr. G. L. Peiris's somersault to the SLFP.

It may be that the President (I am sorry I have to go on referring to the President, and not the government, as it is very clear that the state secret is known to her and one or two others.) is thinking of converting the present parliament into a constituent assembly in order to adopt a new constitution. She may have been given a 'legal opinion' by a lawyer (very unlikely a practising lawyer) that such a constituent assembly can adopt a new constitution by a simple majority. Already the UNP, the MEP and several individuals have given their reasons as to why it cannot be done so.

I have other objections to the whole procedure. By the time the constituent assembly is instituted it will be more than four years since the general election in 1994, at which the present parliament was elected. Even if the government had a mandate from the people to adopt a new constitution through a constituent assembly the government should have set about it soon after the election. It is true that the parliament is elected for a period of six years and during that period the parliament is empowered to adopt bills including those seeking amendments to the constitution. However a constituent assembly is a different method altogether. The government must have a special mandate to institute a constituent assembly and the people should have been told in advance what the amendment is all about. The parliament elected with a proper mandate should proceed with the setting up the constituent assembly soon after the election.

It is necessary that the people should have been told about a constituent assembly in no uncertain terms during the election campaign. Otherwise any government coming into power can institute a constituent assembly and adopt a constitution with a simple majority. This will make a mockery of the whole procedure of amending and adopting constitutions. There is also the opinion that while there was a necessity to have a constituent assembly in 1970, as the then government envisaged a break from the dominion form of government given to us by the British parliament there is no necessity now as any amendments to the constitution can be made through our parliament.

This government has no mandate from the people to institute a constituent assembly. In any case, as mentioned before, what the manifesto of the PA (at least the Sinhala version) said was that the legislative and the executive power would be restored in the parliament. Thus the government, even if they have mandate to institute a constituent assembly, they cannot use that mandate to adopt a constitution which devolves power to provincial, regional or any other council they can think of. They can only abolish the provincial councils with the hypothetical mandate. (However this does not imply that it is necessary to have a constituent assembly to abolish the provincial councils. It can be done through the parliament.)

Finally, the government has already embarked on amending the constitution through constitutional means. The G. L. - Neelan draft constitution has been presented to the parliament in one form or the other and the government has to go through the entire procedure now. It is immoral and un-parliamentary to start another process after realising that the two third majority cannot be obtained.

There is another aspect to which we have to pay our attention. The TULF not only did not oppose postponing the provincial council elections but they too wanted a postponement. They are interested in the regional councils and they might not oppose even the abolishment of the provincial councils provided they get the regional councils in the present form or in an asymmetrical form with more power. The President may be thinking in terms of an entirely new set of amendments, which while giving the impression to the public that the provincial councils have been abolished, in essence gives more power to the East and the North through asymmetrical devolution. Asymmetrical devolution is a step in the direction of a confederation and with statements on talks with the LTTE this possibility also has to be considered very seriously, especially as Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is also in favour of such a scheme.

The statements on the devious methods are not good for the country and any attempt to resort to such methods has to be opposed without resorting to devious ways.