Land powers have already been devolved

(Kumar David) Who said there is a dispute about devolving land powers to the provincial councils (PC)? Mahinda Ralapanawe, a senior Attorney-at-Law and a former public servant with substantial experience in land related departments, says: “Rubbish, land powers have been fully devolved as in the 13th Amendment and are exercised without hindrance by eight of Sri Lanka’s provincial councils.”

Speaking at a seminar on February 23 organized by the Socialist Study Circle at the N.M. Perera Centre in Cotta Road, Colombo 8, Ralph (if I abbreviate it to MR there will be chaotic confusion!) pointed out that the problem is not about devolving land powers; that’s all been done a long time ago. The problem is that the government is not holding, and inexplicably the TNA is not demanding, provincial council elections in the Northern Province (NP). That’s what the real problem is, nothing else! If a provincial council is elected in the north, and if it functions just as the other eight are doing right now, it will as a matter of default, exercise full land powers as laid down in 13A.

The status quo

If Ralph is right, he spoke with authority and showed a depth of experience; the TNA is engaged in a futile exercise, hammering away at an open door. Under the provisions of 13A, the selection of land recipients, the alienation of land and nitty-gritty matters such as land transfers are assigned to provincial councils. And existing PCs are all exercising these powers; true there are shortcomings in implementation as currently devolved to the eight provinces, but that’s a separate matter. The provincial minister in charge of the subject is invariably the chief minister of the PC and the relevant land commissions and administrative bodies function under his control. There is little or nothing that the centre needs to get involved in, or actually gets involved in except when it comes to projects of national magnitude. The way Ralph described it, land powers are fully devolved, already as per 13A, and the hot debate in the media is shadow boxing; much ado about nothing.

There have been full page arguments by TNA leaders and counter arguments by detractors about a fait accompli! All the present PCs have a government party majority or in the case of the Eastern Province a political appendage of the government. When they recite in chorus that they do not need any additional powers, it’s a tongue in cheek exercise; what more do they need, they have it, are exercising it and enjoying it to the full; so says Ralph. The reason why three PCs have already objected to the proposed Bill giving the central government the right to acquire land for archaeological and religious purposes is because they do not want constraints on powers that they already enjoy and exercise.

So now you understand why the government and the Sinhala chauvinists despite screaming blue murder about 13A being a dastardly Indian imposition are quite powerless to repeal it. Ask yourself, if 13A is such a monstrosity why does not this government with its two-thirds majority repeal it? If the people hate it so much the repeal will sail through a referendum with ease. So why not? Elementary my dear Watson, all the PCs will fight tooth and nail to keep 13A, not just because of land powers but because of all the powers and privileges that have been devolved to the provinces. It’s not the blasted Tamils that are an obstacle to removing 13A, it’s the fat-cat Sinhalese provincial powers. Let us throw a challenge to the government and the chauvinists: “If 13A is so foul, repeal it! Get the Sinhalese provincial politicians and public to shore up a repeal campaign.” Silence; so now you understand why the chauvinists bark but dare not bite.

TNA barking up the wrong tree

The TNA is barking up the wrong tree because a small but boisterous section of the Tamil community is living in cloud cuckoo land as I will explain in a moment. The demand that the TNA must advance right now is, “Hold PC elections in the Northern Province.” The degree of devolution now contained in 13A is, I agree inadequate, but it does include land powers. The demand for police and fiscal powers is justified, but the TNA can still contest elections in the Northern Province without signing an agreement on a political solution if these powers are not granted and still campaign for them. The two matters, signing up on a political agreement, and demanding and contesting PC elections in the NP, are separate, and to use a Maoist expression, the TNA “must walk on two legs.”

It seems inexplicable that the TNA is not demanding the establishment of a Northern PC; but there is a reason, it is allowing itself to be held hostage by a Tamil extremist group that styles itself a civil society movement. It is baseless slander to call this movement a rump-LTTE or ex-LTTE. It is not! But it is extremist in the sense that its programme is too Tamil nationalist. This group is opposed to the TNA taking control of the NP-PC (it is sure to win the elections) until Rajapaksa gives the Tamils the sun and the moon and acknowledges the right of the Tamil people to self-determination.

The right to self-determination was most comprehensively developed by Lenin. These kaluthaihal know nothing of Lenin or the principles of that debate. First and foremost the Marxist movement does not beg the bourgeoisie and various oppressors to please recognize the right to self-determination. If the Tamils are waiting for Rajapaksa, Weerawansa and Patali to accept self-determination they will have to wait till Nadaraja ends the celestial dance! This is garbage; Lenin’s position and his debate with Rosa was about whether the Marxist party recognizes this right or not. By extension thereof these Tamil nationalists can argue with the TNA about whether the latter recognizes the right of the Tamil people to self-determination or not. That’s fine, but it has nothing to do with the negotiations for a political settlement with Rajapaksa’s government.

The matter does not arise in the current negotiations unless there is a groundswell of opinion among the Tamil people demanding that the question of secession to form a separate state of Thamil Eelam be placed on the agenda. There is no such mood in the Tamil public now, so the matter of self-determination is one of principle in the programme of the Marxist party. It comes to life only if and when the people themselves raise the question of secession – vide for example, Scotland today.

I recognize the right of the Tamil people to self-determination but I have a little bit more brains than a donkey who wants the TNA to negotiate the matter with Rajapaksa. If the Tamil people themselves demand a separate nation state, then the matter comes to the fore. If they do not, it is not the job of a Marxist to ram Thamil Eelam down the throat of a reluctant population! This new Tamil nationalist group needs to be educated first on the principles of all this, and the TNA needs to buck up and demand provincial council elections. In the meantime the negotiations with this government may go on and on, forever.

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