2019 for Federalism?

As we enter 2019, a year that promises to be a challenging one for Sri Lanka in every way possible. Not only the year ahead, even the decade ahead is likely to be a challenging period for Sri Lanka as a nation. I would go as far as to say that even our nation’s existence will be under severe threat during this uncertain times!

Most Sri Lankans, especially our politicians, subscribe to the view that Sri Lanka is safe from separatist threats. The Tigers have been defeated, and Sampanthan himself has come out in favour of an undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka. More significantly India, the giant neighbour of ours, will never allow a Tamil state to emerge within the shores of Sri Lanka! It is believed that allowing a Tamil state to emerge from Sri Lanka will cause long term repercussions for India, in the Tamil Nadu context. Although I don’t particularly disagree with this assessment, we must understand that major geopolitical developments currently underway will change many of the familiar equations. Sri Lanka must position itself to withstand emerging threats if it is going to survive as a nation!

China’s emergence as a great maritime power has created unprecedented geopolitical consequences for Indian Ocean Region. In Sri Lanka, Chinese involment has steadily increased during the past decade. Chinese influence was used as the main justification for regime change operation that India and the West carried out in 2015. In fact, on the contrary to their expectation, change of regime didn’t have any impact on Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. If anything, under the new regime, the Chinese have increased their foothold on the island! Hambantota port is a case in point. One could argue that, whoever is in power in Sri Lanka, the Chinese financial muscle will always hold sway!

For the Chinese, ONE BELT ONE ROAD initiative, and the STRING OF PEARLS strategy are at the heart of their plan to rise as the grearest power on earth. And, Sri Lanka find itself in the heart of this geopolitical manoeuvring by the People’s Republic of China. Also, it is absolutely important to mention that China has been an all-weather friend of Sri Lanka’s for more than a half a century. Zhou Enlai, rubber-rice pact, and all that.

India is certainly the single most important player in the USA’s strategy to counter Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean, or more specifically in the arc between the gulf of aden and strait of malacca. Some would even go as far as to say that India is the US’s proxy in Asia. I do think it is an oversimplification of US-India dynamics. The pertinent question for us though, would the USA be content with having India playing the solo role of countering China in the region? Or Would it be in the US’s interest to have an alternative option? What about a US presence in Sri Lanka, wouldn’t that provide her with a perfect naval base to check Chinese advances in the Indian Ocean?

The US did cultivate an interest in Sri Lanka, especially during the cold war. However, Asia’s and Indian Ocean’s significance during that period was very much secondary in nature. Otherwise, the US would have done a lot more to have a naval presence in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka-US dynamics has moved far away from the Jayawardene days, and Yankee Dick has long gone. Ranil Wickramasinghe and the UNP may try to rekindle the US’s memory of a bygone era, I am sure the US is well aware of their limitations in providing adequate space for its interests! Today, the US must compete with both China and India for diplomatic space as never before. The availability of ¥ over $ will ensure Sri Lankan leaders are more likely to lean towards than !

What one witnessed in 2018 leaves one with little doubt about things to come. TNA’s Abe Sumanthiran crudely interrupting Lakshman Kiriella’s parliamentary speech, was a revelation of Abraham’s power over Ranil Wickramasinghe! Karu Jayasuriya’s New Year’s message calling for the abolishment of the Executive Presidency, whilst holding the office of Parliamentary Speaker, speaks volumes about his motives. One needs to carefully study the disproportionately powerful roles played by those representing (the so called) civil society and rights groups, to understand the depth of their influence and power. One needs to understand the activities of those representing various commissions, such as the Election Commission, to realise their agendas. Dare I say, one should carefully consider the functions of our judiciary, and examine its culpability for being influenced by foreign powers?

In 2019, they say the another constitutional amendment is on the cards, some say even a new constitution, abolishment of the executive Presidency, and so on.
Some or all of the above may or may not happen. Either way, these actions are nothing but the means towards an end. Underlying objective is to pave the way for creation of the state of Tamil elam comprising of North & East of the island. Creation of such state will surely enable the US to have a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean with a naval and airbase.

With precedence in Kosovo, East Timor and South Sudan, creation of such states isn’t beyond the realms of reality. We must remember that nearly a third of the population originating from North & East live in the West. Also we must recognise that the US is the host country of Trans National Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). The war crime allegations, and the UNHCR mechanism will act as a significant tool for this project. If we believe that Sampanthan’s assurance of an undivided, indivisible country, or Indian and Chinese interests alone will safeguard Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity, rude shock awaits us!

We must proactively address many of our shortcomings, to survive as a nation, and survive as nation we must

By Arun Tambimuttu

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