Kumaratunga Package & Proposed Referendum
21 January 1997 -
21 January 1997
(from the Tamil Circle)
It is with regret that I am compelled to differ from some of the views that
Mr.Vasantharajah has expressed in his letter to the Ceylon Daily News - regret, because of
the support that Mr.Vasantharajah has extended the Tamil struggle for self determination
but compelled because I believe that some of his views are fundamentally flawed.
Mr.Vasantharajah refers to the 'PA' s campaign to convince the Sinhala majority to
support the Package' and comments:
"Irrespective of the Package's inability to meet the Tamil aspirations, if the
government succeeds in getting the Sinhala majority behind it (by defeating the extremist
Sinhala chauvinist forces led by powerful sections within the Buddhist clergy) then, that
would mark a significant break-through in the evolution of the Sinhala consciousness in
the right direction... I do not hesitate to accept the sociological significance of
Sinhala masses giving the thumbs down to the Sinhala extremist campaign."
I have several concerns about this approach. Is President Chandrika Kumaratunga and
the government she leads less 'extreme' and less 'chauvinist' than the so called
'extremist Sinhala chauvinist forces led by powerful sections within the Buddhist clergy'?
The genocidal onslaught launched by President Chandrika
Kumaratunga on the Tamil people in 1995/96 (assisted by her uncle and Deputy Defence
Minister Anuraddha Ratwatte), the medieval victory
ceremony on the fall of Jaffna, the continuing
economic blockade of the Tamil homeland, the continuing
disappearances and horrendous rapes by the
Sinhala army, the continuing Sinhala armed occupation of the Tamil homeland, all give the
lie direct to any claim that President Chandrika Kumaratunga is somehow 'less extreme' and
I believe that it will be unwise for the Tamil people to permit the promotion of such a
myth. Indeed, it may be difficult to imagine what a more extreme Sinhala
leader would have done that President Kumaratunga has not already done.
IPKF Lt.General Amarjit Kalkat interview in
Frontline on 29 December 1995 revealed the nature of the attack that President
Kumaratunga launched on the Tamil people:
they (Sri Lanka) have
followed a strategy of a broad front...it
causes a lot of destruction. You are actually steamrollering through the area. Step by
step. Do a certain distance first, then clean up, converge on the next one. Any building
from which resistance comes or where there is likely to be resistance, bring it down with
air bombing or with tank fire. You clean up. But then as you pass -- you're leaving behind
rubble as you go. So that was the other problem for which they have resorted to censorship
so that this doesn't come out.
they have made sure that there is no adverse
publicity (world opinion, the press, doesn't know what is happening there, because it's
all controlled). The strategy was different (to our IPKF strategy). Here they followed a
broad front, we (the IPKF) followed -- I had no option -- a narrow front strategy.
(a) a broad front would have taken a long time, (b) it would need a lot of troops, I did
not have that, (c) it would have meant a lot of destruction and civilian casualties, that
would not be acceptable to either to my government or to me, and (d) we did not want the
civilians to leave Jaffna.
Our objectives were different to that extent. We had gone there to assist their
rehabilitation, not to uproot them. So therefore, if we were to go and reduce Jaffna in
the conventional manner, they would have been homeless for all time to come after that! "
That President Kumaratunga's strategy was deliberate is shown by her interview with
India Today on 30 April 1995:
"Q. Where do you go from here?
A. ...To defeat the LTTE you have to launch an all out attack (which would mean a lot
of Tamil civilian casualties) and the place (Jaffna) will be wiped out. Q. Is that
possible? Can the Sri Lankan forces do it? A. Ofcourse it is possible..."
Again, as Anton Balasingham declared in August 1995, President Kumaratungas
political package was nothing more than a 'peace mask'
for her genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people. I believe that it is wrong to suggest (as
Mr.Vasantharajah does) that 'irrespective of the package's inability to meet the Tamil
aspirations, if the government succeeds in getting the Sinhala majority behind it ...that
would mark a significant break-through in the evolution of the Sinhala consciousness in
the right direction.'
The contents of the package that the Sinhala people are willing to accept must surely
have everything to do with the question whether 'Sinhala consciousness' is evolving in the
The political reality is that the Kumaratunga package
gives Buddhism a pre eminent place in the Constitution and retains ultimate legislative
and executive control in the hands of a Sinhala dominated centre - with, presumably, a
Sinhala army continuing to occupy the Tamil homeland for the forseeable future. The
package is not even a starting point for a negotiating process because it denies the
equality of the parties to the negotiating process.
Furthermore, it is on the basis of an appeal to Sinhala chauvinism that President
Chandrika Kumaratunga has sought to sell the package to her Sinhala electorate.
The Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported on 20 August 1995:
"Defending the devolution package, (President Kumaratunga) said in no way would it
erode the supremacy of (the central) parliament... The President said that since Policy
Planning was a subject for the centre, the central government had a hold in every subject
a region handled... the President said, even if a Regional Council opposes, the centre has
the power to go ahead and allocate land for its purposes. The President also moved to
allay fears of a North-East merger saying that the government did not have any idea of
merging the North with the East."
President Kumaratunga seeks to persuade the Sinhala people that it is not the UNP but
that it is she, the conquering victor of Jaffna, who is the trusted guardian of Sinhala
Buddhist interests. If she succeeds in her sales pitch, I fail to see in what way such
success 'would mark a significant break-through in the evolution of Sinhala consciousness
in the right direction.'
Ofcourse, the question does arise: Why do the UNP and sections of the Buddhist clergy
oppose the political package? The answer is not far to seek. The UNP well knows that the
package does not divide the country and that on the contrary, the package ensures that
control remains in the hands of a permanent Sinhala majority. But the UNP is not in the
business of securing President Kumaratunga's precarious hold on power. The UNP seeks to
bring her government down.
The opposition of the United National Party and sections of the Buddhist clergy to the
package and the refusal of President Kumaratunga to abolish the executive Presidency
despite her election promise to do so within an year of coming into power, have everything
to do with the struggle for power between the two major Sinhala political parties - and
very little to do with any 'evolution of Sinhala consciousness in the right direction.'
But then, this is not a new scenario for the Tamil people. In 1968, for instance, an innocuous District Councils Bill presented by the
UNP was thwarted by the opposition led by the SLFP and Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranike. Satchi
Ponnamblam wrote perceptively about this in 1991 and I quote:
|"In order to put and/or maintain themselves in power, the Sinhalese-Buddhist
politicians, first of the S.L.F.P. and then of the U.N.P., and each in turn thereafter,
wooed the Buddhist Mahanayakes (Chief Prelates) of the different Chapters and Sects and
the Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks) comprised in them and ushered these organized religious men
to the center stage of politics and encouraged them to exert religious pressure for
I will now sketch how these old atavistic memories and irrational
fears embedded in the psyche of the Sinhalese leaders and people because of their belief
in the truth of this falsified Sinhalese-Tamil past history, prevented the grant of even
nominal concessions, by reference to the attitudes and assertions made by the Sinhalese
Parliamentarians to the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake's innocuous proposals for
District Councils, presented as a White Paper to the House in 1968.. "
1968 June 5: A White Paper on proposals for the establishment of District Councils
under the direction and control of the Central Government is tabled in the House of
According to a draft bill attached to the White Paper, the government Agent of the
District would be the Chief Executive Officer and all employees of these Councils would be
public servants under the control of the Government Agent. The District Councils would not
be local authorities but would be extensions of the Central Government taking over some of
the functions now performed by the Kachcheries. The Councils, to be constituted in each
Administrative District, would consist of ex-officio Councillors consisting of (a) elected
M.P.s for each electoral district which lay within such administrative districts, (b)
appointed M.P.s, (c) Mayors of Municipalities and Chairmen of local bodies within the
administrative district. There would also be not more than 3 nominated Councillors. The
Councils would function under the language laws of the country. The record of the Councils
throughout the island would be kept in the official language (Sinhala). In the Northern
and Eastern provinces, records would be kept in Tamil also. Correspondence with the
central government would be in the official language.
1968 June 8: Walk-out in Parliament. Burning of copies of the White Paper on District
Councils. Beginning of Sinhala- Buddhist campaign against District Councils The entire
opposition in the House, with the exception of three members, walk out of the house
burning and tearing copies of the White paper within the Chamber as P.M. Dudley Senanayake
rose to initiate the debate on the White Paper ... As they were marching out of the
Chamber, some members tear the document and throw the pieces in the air, while a leading
member of the S.L.F.P., T.B. Tennekoon, burns his copy ... The members who had earlier
walked out, led by the leader of the opposition Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, gather outside
the precincts of the Parliament building and make a bonfire of the copies before they
1968 June 11: Debate on the White Paper. Opposition coalitionists led by Mrs
Bandaranaike continue to boycott the debate, but a Vice-President of the S.L.F.P., R.G.
Senanayake, defies the party's decision to keep away and launches an attack on the White
Paper. He says he saw in the District Councils the distinct possibility of the division of
the Island into two or three parts. The expelled F.P. member, V. Navaratnam on the other
hand, says that the proposal now before the House was a very wide deviation from the
agreement that the Party had entered into with the P.M. Not only did it not do any justice
to the Tamil people, but it contained "obnoxious and pernicious sections"
detrimental to the Tamils. The most vehement attack on the District Councils proposals
came from a Tamil member on the Government side, G.G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the Tamil
Congress. He calls the proposals a "hideous hybrid monstrosity" and said that
the establishment of District Councils would lead to the eventual segregation of the
Sinhalese and the Tamils, while the F.P. Members accuse Mr Ponnambalam of betraying the
1968 June 13: Winding up the debate P.M. Dudley Senanayake lashes out at the opposition
for "carrying on a false propaganda and spreading communal hatred." He quotes
from the speeches of opposition leaders and points out how they had earlier favoured the
establishment of District Councils and even incorporated the idea in numerous Throne
Speeches. They could not now face the house and "ran away from the debate." He
says most people spoke very glibly of communal amity; the communal harmony which his
cousin R.G. Senanayake was talking about was "the biggest sham perpetrated on the
people of the country." The unity some people want is the subjugation of the rest,
subjugation of another's culture, language and aspirations, to their dominant force ....
May the country be saved from those who speak of national unity, and then do their utmost
to prevent it from being achieved."
Commenting on the bitter attack against each other of the Tamil Congress and the F.P.,
Mr Senanayake says: "The tragedy of the Tamil race is the existence of a set of
self-seeking sycophants making the sweet speech of saviours. If the Tamils are ever to
regain their birthright in Ceylon, they should sent away the present saviours of the Tamil
Congress and the Federal Party."
The P.M. does not indicate when he proposes to introduce the legislation in Parliament,
which is prorogued after June 18. Despite efforts made by Dudley Senanayake to dispel what
he called the false propaganda against the proposed District Councils Bill, the campaign
both in the Press and on platforms against the Bill increases in tempo.
A section of the Press reports under banner headlines that an influential section of
the Government parliamentary group would shortly issue an ultimatum to the P.M. either to
give up the controversial District Councils Bill or to face a revolt within its ranks. The
S.L.F.P., in a circular to its supporters describes the proposed Bill as the consequence
of a "secret pact" between the P.M. and the Tamil leader Chelvanayakam. Mass
rallies are organized to whip up opposition to the Bill. It is alleged that the Bill was a
"device to divide the country to the detriment of the Sinhala people."
The Buddhist Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters, as well as a deputation
of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress meet the P.M. to make known their opposition to the
proposed District Councils. Various local bodies in the Sinhala areas as well as Sinhala
political, social, religious and cultural organizations pass resolutions demanding that
the Government give up the proposal. With the mounting, orchestrated campaign against it,
it becomes doubtful with every passing day whether the DC Bill would get into the
1968 July 7: No firm commitment is made on the controversial district Councils Bill in
the Speech from the Throne - the policy statement of the Government for the current
session of Parliament delivered by the Governor-General to the joint session of Parliament
today. A watered-down reference that fullest consideration would be given to the view
expressed on the White Paper, is widely interpreted in the country to mean that the
Government has already bowed to pressure.
1968 July 25: Winding up the debate on the Speech from the Throne, P.M. Dudley
Senanayake declares that the District Councils proposals would be abandoned if a majority
of the people did not want them. He adds that he had tried to bring together the different
communities and that he would continue his efforts." The District Councils episode
and the fiasco in which it ended brings into focus the significant realities of the Tamil
problem or the national question.
Firstly, it epitomizes the resort of the opposition Sinhalese politicians to
"false propaganda and the spreading of communal hatred", as in the words of
Dudley Senanayake, on any measure even remotely connected to or ameliorative of the
enslaved and deprived of "birthright" condition of the Tamil people.
Secondly, that false propaganda will accuse the proposer of any such measure as the
author of a scheme "to divide the country to the detriment of the Sinhalese", in
order to heighten the controversy over it so that the proposer himself would jettison it,
as did Dudley Senanayake.
Thirdly, the vociferous Buddhist lobby consisting of the Mahanayakes, Bhikkhus and the
A.C.B.C. have become the keepers of the conscience of the Sinhalese nation and the
custodians of the Sri Lanka Government's positions over the Tamil problem, which the two
have created in the country.
Fourthly, the ultimatum threat of an influential section of the Government
Parliamentary Group to the P.M. to give up or face revolt shows that the Sinhalese
politicians do not divide on party lines on the Tamil problem but on racial or ethnic
lines and therefore it is not possible for the P.M. to shore up support for his proposals
even within the ranks of his own party parliamentarians.
Fifthly, living up to Dudley Senanayake's predatory wish, the Tamil people have
"sent away ... the Tamil Congress and the Federal Party", but have yet not
regained their "birthright in Sri Lanka."
Lastly, and most importantly, the new status quo of the Sinhalese and Sri Lanka
Government - Tamil position of rulers/ruled, overlordship/subjugation has come to be cast
in such a rigid, impenetrable and immutable mould that the Tamils have been left with no
choice but to break that mould by force to free themselves to be counted as humans;
otherwise, it was slavery, revolting to any civilized conscience." ( Tamils Right to Self Determination entitled to
international recognition - Justice Satchi Ponnambalam, Judge of the Supreme Court of
Belize, Central America, July 1991)
I can do no better than end with Satchi Ponnambalam's eloquent plea:
|"From the foregoing statement of the preliminaries, it will be evident that the
central fact that lies at the heart of the national question and the Eelam liberation
struggle, and, in fact, that which has spawned both and determine their turbulent and
indomitable course is that the Tamils are an indigenous nation of people, who occupy their
own lands in Eelam from pre- and proto-historic times.
That territory is their national
inheritance, their national patrimony, their separate homeland, their motherland to which
they are bonded in all the strength and attachment as the native people. They possess all
the patriotic love and yearnings and all other conscious and unconscious bindings of any
indigenous nation of people to their own land, and, in particular, in no way less and in
no different manner from the indigenous Sinhalese people to their part of the country.
The Tamils right and claim to the Eelam territory has to be bluntly, irrefutably and
crisply stated: the Eelam lands are inviolate and Tamil nation's sovereignty over that
territory is non-negotiable."
24 January 1997
I would like to respond briefly to Mr.Vasantha Rajahs posting in the Tamil Circle
# 1016 of 23 January. Mr.Vasantha Rajah says:
in response to Mr. Satyendra's (legitimate) concerns, let me
reiterate once again: No, I do not think President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her
government are any less chauvinistic than the overt racists in Sinhala society. On the
contrary, I think she is trying to use the Package as a devious formula to maintain
Sinhala hegemony over the Tamil nation. But this does not rule out the possibility of
leaps in the right direction taking place in the mass Sinhala consciousness. Ordinary
people generally do not understand the legal nuances of the Package, but, if they REJECT
'overtly' chauvinistic appeals to vote against the Package (on the grounds that it is a
"recipe for separation") then, yes, that would mark a significant leap in the
My point was and remains that if ordinary people (whether they understand the legal
nuances of the package or not), vote for the Kumaratunga package, on the basis
of her own campaign that the package does not erode the powers of the centre, that Sinhala
Buddhism is safe in the hands of the conqueror of Jaffna, then their vote would simply
mean that they accept that which President Kumaratunga says. I fail to see why that would
mark a significant leap in the Sinhala consciousness in the right direction.
It is not simply a matter of what the voters reject - it is also a matter of what they
believe they are voting for.
Indeed, given President Kumaratunga's campaign against the LTTE, their vote may
well suggest that ordinary people prefer a 'successful' chauvinist to a not so
After all, the medieval victory ceremony on the fall of Jaffna, was broadcast live on
Sri Lanka TV, to secure President Kumaratunga's image as the Sinhala Buddhist conqueror of
Yappana Patna - and that was by no means an exercise in 'covert' chauvinism. Again, the
continuing overt propaganda by Sri Lanka that the LTTE is a terrorist
organisation is intended to deny the legitimacy of the Tamil struggle, enhance President
Kumaratungas credentials as the protector of Sinhala Buddhism and take the wind off
the UNP sails.
Furthermore, it is not difficult to foresee the situation that will arise if
and when President Chandrika Kumaratunga wins support for the package at a
referendum. The package will then be promoted world wide as the anti
chauvinist moderate reasonable solution to the conflict -
and as a package which has won the support of the moderate Sinhala
The LTTEs refusal to accept the package will be trumpeted as continuing
intransigence and fanaticism in a further attempt to erode the justice
of the Tamil struggle for self determination. At the same time, President
Kumaratungas Sinhala army will continue its effort to annihilate Tamil resistance in
an attempt to further weaken the LTTE.
In this effort she will seek and obtain the support of sections of the
international community to apply pressure on LTTE offices and Tamil expatriate groups to
persuade the LTTE to toe the reasonable package line. Tamil
expatriate supporters will be told that the package has won the support of the
Sri Lankan people and that though everything may not be perfect, the
package is a useful starting point for a negotiating process.
The deviousness of this approach is ofcourse that the package denies the
equality of the parties to the negotiating process and the approach invites talks between
the ruler and the ruled whilst the Sinhala ruler's army continues to occupy the Tamil
homeland. Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly.
As for the Sinhala progressive forces, they may, by then be persuaded to see the
package as the panacea - after all, that is the message that is being drummed
(and will be drummed) into the Sinhala people by the Chandrika government with its
relatively large resources. And President Kumaratunga is not about to relinquish power
voluntarily, after having won a referendum, simply because some may suggest that the
result of the referendum showed that there was a significant leap in Sinhala
consciousness in some other direction.
As Mr.Vasantha Rajah agrees, President Kumaratunga is trying to use the
Package as a devious formula to maintain Sinhala hegemony over the Tamil nation. I
have merely spelt out some of the elements of that deviousness. Events in the coming
months will show whether this analysis is right - that is, ofcourse, if a referendum on
the package is ever held.
The threat of a referendum may even persuade the UNP to adopt
a 'bipartisan approach' and support the 'package' anyway and sections of the international
community may encourage this as the 'dream ticket'.
I believe that since the package is a devious formula to maintain Sinhala
hegemony over the Tamil nation, the Tamil expatriate response may be best directed
to expose that devious formula from the outset and expose the proposed
referendum on the package for what it is - an attempt by President Kumaratunga
to secure her hold on power despite UNP opposition and in addition create an acceptable
mask for securing international aid and support for her continuing attempt to
subjugate the Tamil people.
In this context, I believe that nothing is gained by giving a pseudo
credibility to the package on the basis of a distinction between overt
and covert Sinhala chauvinism - and by suggesting that its acceptance at a
referendum would somehow mark a significant leap in the Sinhala consciousness in the
There is one other matter. Mr.Vasantha Rajah says:
we should be extremely alert to changes within public opinion in the
Sinhala South. If we get pre-occupied with 'surface-appearances' and fail to grasp the
'underlying trends' we can never work out the correct strategy and tactics in relation to
the newly emerging forces in the South. These have enormous potential and,
if properly tapped, can hasten the liberation of the Tamil nation."
In the end, the correct strategy and tactics for the Tamil struggle is a matter for
those on the ground who are leading the Tamil struggle and who have committed their lives
to that struggle - and who, over the past several years, have demonstrated their skill,
acumen, honesty of purpose and stead fast determination by taking the struggle forward
amidst tremendous obstacles. I for one believe that it is they who are siezed of all the
nuances and underlying trends in relation to both the international and local
frames of struggle - nuances which may have escaped our attention. I would imagine
that an assessment of the strength of 'the newly emerging forces in the South" is one
of the matters that may have engaged their attention. Perhaps, the words of
Velupillai Pirabaharan on Maha Veerar Naal on 27 November 1996 bear repetition:
|"We are now facing a new challenge, a new war of aggression. Our historical
enemy, Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinism, has taken institutional form in the guise of
Chandrika's regime and has been conducting a genocidal war against the Tamil nation.
This aggressive war that has been launched in the guise of a "war for
peace" and as a "war for the liberation of the Tamils" has seriously
disrupted the peace of the Tamils, reduced them to refugees, as subjugated people,
destroyed their social and economic existence and brought them intolerable suffering.
the Government of Chandrika has been cheating the world with its theory of peace, in
practice it is conducting a brutal war against the Tamil people.
atrocities occurring in the occupied areas and the anti-Tamil persecution taking place in
the South have exposed the real racist face of the Government. Compared to previous
Sinhala Governments, it is Chandrika's regime which has inflicted a deep wound in the soul
of the Tamil nation
"Having unleashed an intense propaganda campaign categorising our liberation
movement as a "terrorist" organisation and our freedom struggle as
"terrorism" this Government is making every effort to ban our organisation
locally and abroad
. The Government may entertain a notion that it has gained
military hegemony by the occupation of Tamil lands and that this position could be used as
a mode of pressure to its advantage in the peace talks. As far as we are concerned, peace
talks under such conditions cannot be free and equal
We cannot gain our rights by
pleading with the Sinhala rulers. We must fight and win our rights. History has not
recorded any liberation struggle that has been won without fighting,... without