Feature Article

Task of real Tamil political leadership: Sivaram in 2003

[TamilNet, Monday, 09 February 2015, 18:39 GMT]
Sivaram Dharmeratnam alias Taraki, the late senior editor of TamilNet, wrote an article in January 2003, explaining the deadlock of the Sri Lankan unitary constitution which cannot provide for a solution within its framework. The international backers were also aware that a federal solution to the ethnic conflict was practically, legally and politically impossible with the Sri Lankan Constitution, he wrote. “Demystifying the realm of Tamil politics and ridding it of the host of canards, half-truths and obfuscations that have plagued for long the national will to struggle for our inalienable rights,” was the key task of the real Tamil political leadership, he wrote in the article.

Sivaram's reference to ‘non-binding referendum’ to bring in ‘devolution’ solutions to the national question, as trumpeted by Chandrika-supporting Tamils in 1996, has been replaced by the ‘non-descript’ solutions paradigm by the present day Tamil successors of the collaborationist polity, commented Tamil activists for alternative politics in the island.

So far, the Colombo-serving genre of Tamil polity has applied the principle of ‘non-binding referendum’ in a deceitful way only on Tamils to interpret the Tamil votes cast in 2010, NPC elections in 2013 and in 2015 as Tamil assent to a single state in the island and non-descript solutions. Unless the crime of outlook and engineering emanating in this regard from certain imperialist power centres is not effectively addressed, the deception will only take another round of its course, the activists further said.

Year 2015 marks Maamanithar Sivaram's 10th Death Anniversary.

Sivaram wrote the following article in Northeastern Herald, a weekly he co-founded in Colombo in 2002. The article, dated January 10, 2003, (Vol 1, 24), is reproduced below:

Demystify Tamil opinion

By D. Sivaram

The US led coalition that is backing and facilitating Sri Lanka's peace process is no doubt congratulating itself that the LTTE has eventually been persuaded to give up its demand for a separate state and settle for a federal system of regional autonomy within united Sri Lanka. The UNF too thinks that this is a great step forward in settling the conflict.


Does this mean that the UNF and its international backers are genuinely unaware that a federal solution to the ethnic conflict is practically, legally and politically impossible?

I do not think so.

In that case the whole peace exercise can only be a means for them to buy enough time to contain the Tigers until such time that the Tamil people here and abroad lose their political will and cohesion required to sustain the LTTE's conventional military power and unity of purpose.

N. Ram, that inveterate hater of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, once declared Eelam is a pipe dream. He may have fared better as our doomsday prophet if he had said that of a federal solution to Sri Lanka's conflict.

Let's examine why federalism is an impossible dream in Sri Lanka.

With the exception of die hard Sinhala nationalists and assorted racists who rant feverishly from time to time in sections of the English and Sinhala press and TV talk shows, there is a general feeling among opinion makers and politicians in the south today that any political settlement to the conflict should go beyond the 13th amendment to the constitution.

The maximum regional autonomy that is possible within Sri Lanka's present constitution was granted to the provincial councils under the 13th amendment in 1987. The EPRLF, which was elected to run the North-east provincial council in 88, came to the conclusion after two years in power that the quantum of devolution granted under the 13th amendment was woefully inadequate to meet even the very basic expectations of the Tamil people.

All the devolution proposals, which were discussed or put forward by the Sri Lankan government subsequently, have invariably looked beyond the provincial council system of regional autonomy.

Any framework of devolution within a united Sri Lanka that goes beyond the 13th amendment has to be a quasi-federal or federal settlement.

Twelve years ago [1990], from the day the Tamil parties and the Sri Lankan state started discussing models of devolution which went beyond what was offered under the 13th amendment, many Tamil commentators and constitutional experts have been pointing out ad nauseam that it is legally and politically impossible to work out a political settlement which grants more regional autonomy than the provincial council system.

For the sake of record I will repeat the reasons once more.

A devolution plan that offers more than the 13th amendment is necessarily predicated on repealing article 2 of the present constitution, which declares that Sri Lanka is a unitary state. This requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It is not possible under the proportional representation system of elections for a single party to secure two thirds of the seats in the legislature.

Let's assume the government and the opposition join hands to muster the two third votes necessary for the repeal. It would still require the approval of the majority in a countrywide referendum.

The government and the opposition will then have to ask people to vote aye, among other things, for repealing the 'entrenched' Article 9, which upholds the primacy of Buddhism as the state religion. (If this article is not removed, a non-Buddhist regional body would not be able to legislate independently on religious and cultural matters).

The constitution stipulates that a two-thirds majority and the approval of the people at a referendum are required to repeal Article 9.

Can the opposition and the government, even if they come together by some miracle, coax the majority Sinhala Buddhists of this country to strip their religion of the august status it enjoys under the present constitution by virtue of Article 9?

During a discussion on this subject a few months before the 1994 general elections, the late Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam said these constitutional snags could be overcome by setting up a constitution assembly if Chandrika Kumaratunga got a mandate for settling the ethnic conflict politically.

He said that the PA was ready to favourably consider the matter.

The deal whereby R. Sampanthan was to take Thangathurai's seat was justified at the time on the basis that the former was needed to forcefully articulate the Tamil case in the constitution assembly. (Dr. Neelan, who had persuaded Thangathurai on this score, was given custody of the latter's undated letter of resignation.)

Chandrika Kumaratunga spoke not a word about the constitution assembly when she became President. The TULF too kept mum, awed no doubt by the overwhelming support she got in the Tamil electorates at the Presidential election.

How President Chandrika Kumaratunga lost her bearings on the ethnic conflict after that, deluded by the belief that the Tamils were with her, and began her ruthless war for peace is now history. (The question of the constitution assembly came up again when it was suggested that Thangathurai's letter of resignation, which was in Dr. Thiruchelvam's custody, should be sent to the speaker and secretary general of Parliament to make room for Sampanthan. But Thangathurai refused to give up his seat on the ground that the original reason for which the letter had been given was no longer valid.)

In 1996, when it was becoming increasingly clear that obtaining a two thirds majority and approval at a referendum for President Chandrika Kumaratunga's devolution proposals, PA theoreticians and some of its bigoted Tamil lackeys floated the canard called the ‘non binding referendum’. It was, according to them, the means of overcoming the legal and political hurdle posed by the 'entrenched articles' of the constitution.

The so-called non-binding referendum was supposed to give the moral basis to the PA for introducing a new constitution, side stepping the political impediment of the 2/3 majority in Parliament and the national referendum.

The idea behind it was that sovereignty is vested in the people and that the constitution, shorn of its legal aspects, is ultimately the expression of that sovereignty. Therefore a popular mandate from the people to change the constitution can override the legal requirement stipulated for such repeal, said a PA academic at the time.

Eventually when the referendum was about to materialize, the PA leadership called it off.

The non-binding referendum was a hoax right from the start. The PA knew that it was a cul-de-sac. The constitution assembly for which it was designed could never be set up.

The hype about the non-binding referendum was obviously intended to buy time and confound the political will of the Tamils.

The Tamil constitutional expert, V. T Thamilmaran, exposed the constitution assembly canard in his Kumar Ponnambalam memorial speech in Jaffna last Sunday.

Demystify Tamil Opinion
He explained that the Supreme Court would declare a constitution assembly illegal in law as it contravenes Article 76 of the constitution, which expressly prohibits the parliament from delegating its law making powers to another body.

Article 76 was designed to give teeth to Article 2 which makes Sri Lanka a unitary state. Article 76, read together with Article 2, would give greater force to the Supreme Court ruling on any proposed constitution assembly.

Setting up a constitution assembly was long thought to be the panacea to the insurmountable constitutional obstacles to finding a solution that can offer more than the provincial councils.

The Tamil people have to be told truth. It is the bounden duty of the LTTE to educate them on the possibility of federalism in Sri Lanka.

The TULF, which has been held in great respect for its expertise on legal matters and political acumen, had wittingly or unwittingly contributed in no small measure to confounding and obfuscating the Tamil people's political will and knowledge in the past, as its stand on the constitution assembly amply reveals.

It is still not too late for the party to set out on the job of demystifying the realm of Tamil politics and ridding it of the host of canards, half-truths and obfuscations that have plagued for long the national will to struggle for our inalienable rights.

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