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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > ISGA bashing: Much ado about nothing

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

ISGA bashing: Much ado about nothing

25 August 2004

"..The ISGA, by and large, is a four-letter word in the south. It agitates many. It is an irritant to many more. All this is much ado about nothing. The ceasefire is the only tangible reality of the peace process. All talk about talks is empty rhetoric.All those who do not accept this fact are either scoundrels who are using the chance to push their own ulterior agendas or are genuinely misguided gulls who sincerely believe that things would start moving in the right direction if only the Tigers and the UPFA sit across the negotiating table. The ISGA, like all and sundry proposals and plans prepared and submitted by the Tamils since 1978, cannot be implemented neither in part nor in full, come what may. It has been demonstrated ad nauseam and beyond all reasonable doubt that even an iota of regional autonomy for the Tamils beyond what has been granted under the 13th Amendment to the constitution is absolutely impossible..."


"Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went"
- Omar Khayyam (Rubaiyat. Edward Fitzgerald translation)

Reams have been written against the Interim Self Governing Authority proposal submitted by the Liberation Tigers. The JVP has been campaigning consistently against it. The Jathika Hela Urumuya too has been excoriating the proposal. Kadirgamar sought to alarm the Sinhala people and probably the world by saying the ISGA is a blue print for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. And many find his argument very persuasive.

The JVP has found in the ISGA a convenient means to take forward its political mobilisation to another level, steadily cutting grass under the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's feet. The ISGA, by and large, is a four-letter word in the south. It agitates many. It is an irritant to many more. All this is much ado about nothing. The ceasefire is the only tangible reality of the peace process. All talk about talks is empty rhetoric.All those who do not accept this fact are either scoundrels who are using the chance to push their own ulterior agendas or are genuinely misguided gulls who sincerely believe that things would start moving in the right direction if only the Tigers and the UPFA sit across the negotiating table. The ISGA, like all and sundry proposals and plans prepared and submitted by the Tamils since 1978, cannot be implemented neither in part nor in full, come what may.

It has been demonstrated ad nauseam and beyond all reasonable doubt that even an iota of regional autonomy for the Tamils beyond what has been granted under the 13th Amendment to the constitution is absolutely impossible.

Only a pathological optimist would argue otherwise.

Even the 13th Amendment for setting up the Provincial Council system was enforced virtually at gunpoint when India threatened invasion.

The amendment escaped the scrutiny of the Supreme Court by the skin of its teeth as it were. I have pointed out many times in these columns that all those who still pontificate on devolving power in Sri Lanka should peruse the dissenting report from the panel of Supreme Court judges who examined whether the 13th Amendment's provisions were consistent with the constitution.

The Northeast Provincial Council (NEPC) remains a stark reminder of how any kind of devolution is inevitably doomed to fail in Sri Lanka. Today it is nothing more than a pathetic implementing agency for the World Bank and Asian Development Bank funded projects in the northeast.

Many writers, intellectuals, politicians and opinion makers here, who argue that India should be roped in to cage the Tiger, fail to understand a very important thing. When India says that it burnt its fingers in Sri Lanka, it is not referring only to the war it fought with the Tigers - Delhi also has in mind the bitter lesson it learnt about devolution in Sri Lanka after it signed the Indo-Lanka Agreement in 1987.

India found that culturally, legally and technically any meaningful devolution is impossible in this country.

This is best illustrated in a little-known episode of the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka recounted by D.R. Karthikeyan .

In June 1989 India's powerful Cabinet secretary, T.N. Sheshan, summoned D.R. Karthikeyan, who had just assumed duties as Inspector General of the Central Reserve Police Force (Southern Sector), and sent him on an urgent fact finding mission to Sri Lanka.

Sheshan explained the mission's mandate thus: "We want to know what is the ground situation in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka where the conflict is going on. What is the morale of the Indian forces? Why is there no end in sight for the war?

"The Sri Lankan government told us that in pursuance of the Indo-Lanka Accord, they effected the 13th Amendment to their constitution, after which enormous powers have been delegated to the newly created North-Eastern Province with headquarters in Trincomalee. But the LTTE and other groups contend that no devolution has taken place to the Tamil province, despite the assurance of Rajiv Gandhi to Prabhakaran that the newly created North-Eastern Province for Tamils will enjoy as much power as Tamil Nadu enjoys in India. Besides these, whatever else you may find relevant may also be reported", Sheshan told Karthikeyan who had never been to Sri Lanka before. Karthikeyan toured the northeast extensively, spoke to Indian army officers and Jawans, Provincial Council officials, civilians from many walks of life, leaders of the EPRLF, TELO, EROS, ENDLF, academics etc.,

In the report he submitted to the Cabinet Secretary after concluding his mission, Karthikeyan summed up his findings on the devolution of powers to the North-Eastern Provincial Council as follows:

"An on the spot assessment conclusively establishes that devolution of powers under law and order is particularly nil, and even under other heads, devolution is very little. The 13th Amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka was intended to devolve powers to the North-Eastern Provincial Council as part of implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The 13th Amendment has provided for incomplete devolution, and even those incomplete powers have not actually devolved to the Council so far. The inescapable impression one gets is that matters are being delayed on technical grounds, hoping eventually to deny everything with the expectation of a possible change in the political scenario in the north-east".

Karthikeyan's words were prophetic. I hope that local readers would not miss the significance of the fact that he has included the account of this mission to Sri Lanka as a kind of epilogue to his book 'Triumph of Truth: Rajiv Gandhi Assasination - The Investigation'.

Karthikeyan's report to Sheshan explains one of the basic reasons why India is very cautiously avoiding any direct or indirect involvement in the current peace process. India's only concern here today, as is often stated in communiqués from Delhi, is to ensure that the Sri Lankan government excludes external forces from getting 'unduly' involved in the peace process. But above all, it is another indubitable proof that devolution is impossible in Sri Lanka.

Let us assume, for argument's sake, that the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government actually sit down for talks on the ISGA. At the end of the day when both sides ultimately finish arguing, splitting hairs, coaxing, strategising and the like at great expense, they would be back to square one - how to implement what they have agreed on.

An agreement between the government and opposition, underwritten by a third country to ensure the two thirds majority in Parliament is not enough for implementing the solution. A referendum is a must.

Before all this could actually get off the ground it would be time for the next Presidential elections.

Then the idea of devolution, leave alone the ISGA, would be stomped to oblivion in the scramble for the Presidential stakes.

Therefore, all the vehement arguments against the ISGA and all the rallies, marches, fiery speeches and agitations against it are an absolute waste of time.

If this truth is grasped in time, then the people might begin to see that the cease-fire is fast collapsing.

There will be a political vacuum in the ethnic relations of this country as long as devolution is a non-starter, a mere word in the south. Despite the balance of forces, the cease-fire cannot survive for long in this political vacuum.
 

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