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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Playing politics with the Package

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

Playing politics with the Package

30 June 1996



The Tamil parties keep meeting the President and Minister G.L Peiris regularly. Detail upon juicier detail is revealed with concomitant regularity to enlighten, if not entertain, those who are concerned. There are many among the Tamils who feel that this is another futile exercise in resolving the ethnic conflict politically. This view is reflected in the Tamil press and at meetings and seminars attended by the minorities.

The Tamils who claim that the whole thing is nothing but a polite wild goose chase in the marshy tangle of the island’s communal political legacy, defend their position thus:

- that there will never be a consensus on the unit of devolution; that Ashraff will continue to stymie efforts to bring about this consensus among Tamils and Muslims; that the UNP will ultimately evade the issue of repealing Articles 2 and 76; that the modification suggested by Chocksy is cosmetic, having no firm basis in Law; that the government which realises that the PSC has begun to stagnate, is subtly making use of these regular meetings with the five Tamil party alliance and the TULF to keep Tamil votes securely on its side.

A brief perusal of the opinions expressed in the independent Tamil press and at some gatherings will help one grasp the nature and extent of these doubts and objections.

Of these the most important view to emerge in the aftermath of the latest round of meetings between the Tamil parties and the government is that the P. A leadership , by harping on the problem of securing the UNP’s support for the devolution package, is more interested in alienating the minority vote from the UNP than reaching a Parliamentary consensus on the package. The government, according to this view, is becoming less and less sure of its standing among the Sinhalese and is therefore resorting to the Premadasa formulas successfully combining the block minority vote with the divided Sinhala vote. For this formula to succeed, there has to be constant dialogue with the Tamil parties regardless of what comes out of it. This, Premadasa did.

By putting the ball in the Tamil parties court on the question of persuading the UNP which has become an increasingly slippery customer these days, the government is creating an ideal ground for breeding bitterness towards the UNP among the Tamils in the event of the devolution plan’s failure. Now only the PA stands to benefit directly from this (or so it may hope).

This is why some Tamil leaders are keen that Chandrika should meet Ranil and make a serious attempt to secure his support at least on some of the fundamental issues. (The Virakesari made this point in its editorial yesterday.) They also feel that by playing along with the government on this question indefinitely would, in the final analysis, trap them in a situation where they ( the Tamil parties) might be left with no grounds to re-argue their case with the PA that is, they would lose their moral- political leverage over the government which gives them a semblance of legitimacy today.

The main responsibility of persuading the opposition in Parliament lies with the governments said EROS leader Shankar Raji.

Despite all these problems, there are three things on which the Tamil parties seem to pin their hopes once more.

Firstly, the suggestions made by Choksy are to be translated into a legal draft and will be presented to the Select Committee by its chairman soon.

The stated position of the Tamil parties is that amending Article 76 and qualifying Article 2 with reference to that amendment will not provide a solid legal status to the legislative power of the proposed regional council - which means that when a dispute between region and centre involving the former’s legislative authority is referred to the courts, the judges will have to uphold the unitary status of the Sri Lankan state ultimately, despite the qualifying clause. And, as TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam pointed out to the President, it is not, for the Tamil parties, a politically feasible proposition - they having promised the Tamils a federal system of regional autonomy.

However, some among the Tamil leaders feel that the legal draft of the Choksy amendment could be submitted to the full bench of the Supreme Court which has to review the matter before it is taken to Parliament and that if the judgment is favourable, the view of the majority should be added to the qualifying clause of Article 2 and the amending clauses of Article 76. In this way, they say, the uncertainty surrounding future legal disputes over the legislative authority of the proposed regional council could be removed for good.

Secondly, a consensus with the SLMC on the question of the unit. There is a feeling that the Muslim Congress will ultimately settle for an arrangement where it will have its own southeastern regional council. Most Tamil parties, except the TELO, are privately ready to accept or at least acquiesce this plan. Although Mr. Ashraff and his men have been saying many things on many occasions about the unit, some Tamil leaders still cling to the hope that they do possess the Himalayan powers of persuasion to wean Mr. Ashraff away from his singular skill in equivocation which he has applied for long with consummate legerdemain to the question of the unit.

Here again, the feeling among some is that if the government were to Put its foot down on the question, the SLMC will agree to something viable.

Once this is done, the UNP can be made to see reason they say.

This is a farfetched thing but hope, in the Tamil heart in particular, springs eternal ( after more than forty five years what else can one say of that which propels the seemingly interminable pursuit of the Tamil parties).

Thirdly, a national referendum can be held on a comprehensive package. This suggestion has been coming from some Tamils who are directly and indirectly involved in Chandrika’s peace project. The President herself seems to be toying with the idea. This referendum will not be one that is constitutionally binding as the one which is required to repeal or amend the entrenched clauses of the constitution. The government would not be legally bound by its results. Hence, if the outcome is positive then the government and the Tamil parties and perhaps the international community would have a special and effective moral - political advantage in persuading the UNP to support the package. And if the result is negative, the

PA can tell the Tamils that it tried its best to get them a fair deal but that its sincere effort was scuttled by the UNP and other Sinhala nationalist groups. The hope among a few well informed Tamil supporters of the PA, which to some degree is shared by the Tamil leaders who are aware of it, is that over one million minority votes can be secured in favour of the package at such a referendum. As we pointed out in these columns earlier, the Jaffna peninsula should have at least five hundred thousand votes on paper. This, given the current security situation there , is a captive vote bank. Add Tamil votes in the Wanni and east, the votes that can be delivered by Thondaman and Ashraff he captive Jaffna vote and you get more than a million in favour of the package. If this is combined with the Sinhala votes which Chandrika and the various peace groups can muster, the referendum can be, even by a slight margin, a success.

Thus such strategies keep the Tamil leaders occupied as usual.

As one can see, all this is a tangle of octopus, constitutional nuances, electoral calculations, arguments, prevarication, maps, legal issues etc.,

The Select Committee and the dialogue between the Tamil parties and the PA do little to undo it but add further to its muddle as each month passes by.

Once in a distant clime a honeyed voice, sweet and sugared by Ouzo, read this to me from old Khayyam (Fitzgerald’s version of course) -

Myself when young , did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
about it and about: but ever more
came out by the same door as in I went

Id rather be condemned by the powers that be as an uncongenial critic than be pampered as a purveyor of false hopes and half truths to a war worn people.

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