Implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with its attendant powers is held to be the best solution for the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka, particularly by India, Western powers, Tamil leaders as well as various critics who are interested in the devolution of power as a measure of a political solution. However, with the ethnic problem being only one aspect of the minority issues, any solution proposed for this problem should be one that will preserve the respect of all ethnic groups falling within the classification of minorities. The solution, apart from solving their problems should be capable of raising the confidence and trust of all minority groups. It is also important that the proposed solution will raise the confidence and sense of respect of the majority Sinhalese as well.
The 13th Amendment is not an inclusive solution which took into account the problems of all minority groups living in the country. Instead, it has been formulated based on the ethnic issue that only the Tamil people living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces are faced with. The minority issues cannot be defined only in terms of ethnic sense; it should also take into account the religious, caste and other allied factors which have a significant bearing on the minority issues.
In the circumstances, the 13th Amendment cannot be expected to win the confidence of other minority groups which are based on religious and caste differences. The most important concern here is whether the proposed solution will meet with the acceptance of the majority Sinhalese people. Their reminiscences of the 13th Amendment are not pleasant. The Sinhalese intellectuals are of the view that it was something imposed on them. This is a fact that both Tamil leaders and India should take into serious consideration when insisting upon implementation of the 13th Amendment. Whatever may be the solution found for this problem, if it is to be successful and sustainable, it must be capable of raising the confidence of both Tamil and Sinhalese people.
13th Amendment and the Myth of a Tamil Homeland
The 13th Amendment has been formulated based on a conceptual myth that the Northern and Eastern Provinces are Tamil homelands. It is on this mythical belief that the geographical territory of devolution is decided upon and the assertion made is that the power to rule this territory should be vested to a certain degree if not fully with the Tamil people.
The Tamil leaders put forward several arguments to support this claim which were closely connected to each other. One argument was that the Northern and the Eastern provinces remained under Tamil rule until the Jaffna kingdom was conquered by the Portuguese. Both the Portuguese and the Dutch maintained a separate administration in these areas as they were inhabited only by Tamil people. Later, this system of administration was changed by the British and both provinces were brought under a central rule. The British, upon conferring independence ignored the need for allowing a separate rule for Tamils who constituted a separate ethnic group living under an independent Tamil rule in the past and bestowed the entire authority to Sinhala leaders. Since independence, the Sinhala leaders changed the composition of population in the Tamil homeland through colonization schemes under which thousands of Sinhalese people were settled in the Tamil regions. Under the circumstances, they claim that the best solution for the Tamil issue would be to establish a separate rule in areas coming under the Tamil homeland.
However, India did not agree with their claim for a separate state, but strongly believed in the need for offering a solution short of a separate state enabling Tamil people to address their issues and fulfil their aspirations. The solution that India felt ideal was to amalgamate the areas that the Tamil leaders claimed to be their homeland and create a unit of regional rule which is somewhat analogous to Indian states. In this process, India obviously did not make a reasonable attempt to verify the authenticity of the homeland concept. There was also no time for such verification. Apparently, India had acted upon the premise that conferring the power to rule the area they claimed as their homeland would probably help persuade Prabhakaran to agree to a solution short of a separate state.
Although President J. R. Jayewardene had signed the Indo Lanka Peace Accord, he was totally against the Tamil homeland concept. He vehemently opposed the amalgamation of the two provinces as well. J. N. Dixit and Professor K. M. de Silva, based on the discussions held in this respect have clearly explained in their writings, the stand taken by JR. However, owing to the violent and aggressive atmosphere that was building up in the country he was compelled to agree to both these ideas namely the 13th Amendment and the homeland issue which he vehemently opposed. At the end he did not have any other alternative but to comply with the Indian move. In that sense, the Indo Lanka Peace Accord can be termed an artificial and arbitrary agreement forced upon Sri Lanka
At the end, not only Sinhalese people, but also Prabhakaran refused to accept the Indian solution. One unfortunate outcome of this agreement was that Rajiv Gandhi, an illustrious leader produced by modern India and the pioneer of this solution became a victim of ruthless Tamil terrorism. Despite twenty four years having lapsed since the establishment of the Provincial Council System in Sri Lanka, it has failed miserably to inspire confidence in the people that the system is an effective system of governance; instead it has become an object of wide spread ridicule. It is perceived to be a white elephant and cannot be considered a successful experiment of two-tier system of governance.
The homeland concept which can be deemed to be the most important factor that influenced the introduction of the 13th Amendment is not a subject that had been studied properly with factual evidence. Even if there were any orthodox studies, they were made public only after signing of the Indo Lanka Peace Accord. Of the studies done on this subject, there are two important publications which are of excellent quality and worthy of attention. One is by Gerald Pieris, Professor of Geography at the University of Peradeniya and the other is by K. M. de Silva, Professor of History at the same university. Both these studies have been published by the International Center for Ethnic Studies. The study done by Professor Gerald Pieris was published in 1991 under the title; “An Appraisal of the Concept of a Traditional Tamil Home Land in Sri Lanka” while that of Professor K. M. de Silva is titled; “Separatist Ideology in Sri Lanka: A Historical Appraisal” and was released in 1987 with its second revision being published in 1994. Also a Sinhalese translation of this book by Professor K. N. O. Dharmadasa was released in 2007 by Visidunu Publishers. Gerald Pieris has focused mainly on the changes that have come over the ethnic composition in the Eastern Province due to colonization schemes. Apart from that he had assessed the conditions that prevailed prior to the initiation of the colonization schemes.
Based on the census data of 1921, he had presented three maps depicting the distribution of population by ethnic groups in three districts namely Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee in the Eastern Province. According to this data, both the Tamil and Muslim populations of these areas exceeded that of the Sinhalese. Tamil and Muslim populationd were primarily concentrated in the coastal areas. The population density too, was relatively high compared to the areas inhabited by Sinhalese. The old villages in which the Sinhalese population dwelled were located in the hinterland. Although the numbers of Sinhalese population that lived there were small and sparsely spread, the land area occupied by them remained comparatively larger. Traditionally, the Sinhalese had the ownership of the land they occupied. Moreover, he had made an indepth analysis of the Gal Oya colonization scheme in this study. He has amply proven that the Eastern Province has never been a homeland confined to a particular ethnic group living in Sri Lanka.
Professor K. M. de Silva, in his thesis had conducted an indepth review of the claim made by the Tamil leaders for a Tamil homeland. In his capacity as a historian, he had reviewed all major arguments put forward by Tamil academics and Tamil political leaders from the beginning of the Federal Party up to the point of signing the Indo Lanka Peace Accord in justifying their claim for a separate homeland. Professor de Silva has proved the falsity of the Tamil homeland concept and demolished all arguments put forward by those who attempted to defend it in a manner that anyone can understand easily.
It is important to note that the facts enumerated in these two studies have so far not been disproved by any scholar who has defended the Tamil homeland concept. Nor can there be any capacity for them to do so. The facts presented in both these studies are not only correct but also logical. Anyone who reads these two studies cannot resist the impression that the Tamil politicians and the academics that support the Tamil homeland concept have painted a false picture based on unrealistic facts in order to persuade India to support their agenda of divisional politics. Adopting a policy of implementing the 13th Amendment while ignoring these facts will no doubt create the impression in the minds of the people someday that they had been cheated. Rectification of such a situation and avoidance of its repercussions may not be easy.
Not only the Tamil leaders but also India and all the international forces that are concerned and interested in this question should take serious cognizance of this situation. It does not imply that the Tamil people have no issues to be settled through a political solution. It is true that the Tamil people are subject to suffering, pain and various pressures. Obviously, there should be a sustainable solution for their grievances. Yet, the 13th Amendment cannot be considered the best solution for that. We must go for a better and more creative solution which apart from satisfying the aspirations of the Tamil people should be capable of ensuring the approbation of all other communities as well. In my opinion, first of all, the Sinhala leaders must apologize to the Tamil people for the wrongdoings and injustices they have inflicfted upon them. Similarly, the Tamil leaders too, should apologize to the Sinhala people for the ruthless responses by the Tamils which were not in proportion to the mistakes committed by the former.
A system of federal states which is appropriate for a country like India is by no means suitable for a small country like Sri Lanka. Yet, it would be possible for us to emulate India and adopt a creative system of devolution of our own.
The root of almost all problems of this country lies in the village. In fact, the formal system of governance should originate from the village level. It is a unique unit that should be empowered and made the basis of self-governance. It is from the village level that we should begin the process of reconciliation of the divisions based on ethnic, religious, caste and class differences. India went back to the old Panchayath system. A substantial power has been vested in the Panchayath. It has contributed immensely in making a discernible progress in India. Similarly, we can revert to the old Gamsabah (Village Council) system thereby deviating from the current Provincial Council system. The powers to carry on the administrative and development functions of the area can be transferred to the Village Councils (VC). A system of electing the Chairman of the VC and the committee members by the vote of the people of the village can be adopted. The Chairman of the VC, who is the chief executive of the village, could be remunerated with a financial grant and other facilities given to a representative of the present Pradeshiya Sabha. The VC can be vested with powers to maintain law and order in the village, provision of amenities such as education and health facilities, maintenance of infrastructure facilities, formulation of the village development plan and the budget, the census of the village population and formulation and maintenance of the lands register and above all the power to collect rates and taxes.
Regional Consortium of Village Councils
A Regional Consortium of Village Councils could be formed with the representation of all VC Chairmen coming under a Pradeshiya Sabha area. The president of that consortium may be appointed the chief executive of the respective area. Further, the authority to formulate the Overall Village Development Plan based on the individual plans prepared by each village council, implementation of same and progress review of activities of village councils may be vested in the Regional Consortium.
A District Council System can be implemented in respect of each district consisting of representatives elected by the people on a ward system. The chairman of the District Council shall be the chief political executive. The Councilors of the District Council can be remunerated with an appropriate salary and a special allowance. It is possible that adequate powers will be vested in the District Council so that it may carry out the district administration and development work without hindrance. With the approval of the people, it is also possible to grant authority to Councils to form themselves into a Provincial Council consisting of two or more Councils in the area. The Provincial Council can be given more powers than the District Councils. Moreover, two or more Provincial Councils, subject to people’s approval can be formed into a Regional Council having more powers than the Provincial Councils. The proposed system of administration may lead to the presumption that at the initial stage of its likely implementation, the Northern province will readily go for the Provincial Council system while the rest of the country will decide to set up District Councils in respective areas; and the Tamils will hold the majority power of District Councils in Batticaloa and Nuwara Eliya while Muslims will form the majority force in the Ampara District Council. All other District Councils will have the majority or higher share of the power being held by the Sinhalese community.
If we are to overcome the incongruous and prejudicial elements in the present system of governanance, it is essential that an overall change is made in the political system as well. If an Executive Presidential system is preferred, a better model of it which does not interfere with the Rule of Law can be chosen instead of continuing with the present system which is inconsistent and unpleasant. The parliamentary system too, has to change to match the new system. If the Executive Presidential system is to be changed, it can be replaced with a new parliamentary system which is different from the present system. The functions of the Parliament may be restricted only to formulation of national policies thereby reducing the size of the representation therein. A bicameral constitutional assembly may be introduced by setting up a Senate. A system can be introduced in which a leading post in the government sector is specifically designated to an applicant of a minority group as a gesture of recognition of people belonging to minority religions and castes. It is also possible to adopt a Covenant of Human Rights. The right to access information can be legalized. The law of assets and liabilities can be amended to suit the current needs and ensure its proper and effective implementation. A national policy framework can be adopted in respect of all matters of national importance. The present election commission which is warp ed and distorted can be replaced with a strong Election Commission probably in line with the system adopted in India and confer wide and varied powers to it to maintain an independent and just system of elections and safeguard democratic values. It is also possible to set up a commission of prevention of bribery and corruption to arrest the rampant wave of corruption that prevails throughout. The system adopted by the Hong Kong government can be emulated in this regard. It is also necessary to adopt a judicial system which is free from external interferences and committed to maintain the independence of the judiciary and mete out justice impartially. It is important to take into serious account the degenerated level the police service of the country has plunged into at present. If the political leaders, intellectuals and the people are genuinely interested they can together reshape the country on a new model. It should be the responsibility of all of us to make use of the historical occasion that is in our hands to build an excellent country.
(By Victor Ivan)