Gotabaya’s Visit to Delhi and the Nation’s Environmental and Constitutional concerns.
Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana
The Indian government, by acting with strategic alacrity managed a diplomatic advance in inviting the New President of Sri Lanka to Delhi, within the first breath of the new presidency. The new president, in accepting the invitation equally rapidly has shown his friendliness and openness for dialogue, at a time when Tamil Nadu leaders remained mute, judging the election purely in terms of a hostile historical narrative. The central government in India has always had its doctrine of dominance in the south Asian theater. However, Gotabaya Rajapakse has already stated very clearly that the Sri Lankan government hopes to follow a neutral or non-aligned foreign policy. A natural consequence of such a policy is that the internal matters of the small nation should be its own concern, and the attempts of strong nations to interfere and intervene have to be repelled by balancing the international forces to counter each other. Instead, we have had five years of abject bent knees towards certain big powers, when some foreign diplomats behaved like Viceroys of yester year, even writing constitutions for Sri Lanka, with no compensating gains what so ever to the country, but of course some individuals gained privately.
The first step to ensure that the Indian government does not interfere in Sri Lankan matters is to address its presumed concerns squarely and fairly, while calling upon India to respect and address those of Sri Lanka.
What are the main concerns of Sri Lanka? In my view, these are: mainly environmental and constitutional.
1) Strong environmental concerns arise from the presence of some 50 coal-burning power stations along the southern shores of Tamil Nadu. In fact, the pollution levels even in Colombo correlate with those in the Indian subcontinent when the prevailing winds carry them south.
2) Lack of even observer status and agreed upon joint safety procedures regarding the Kundankulam Nuclear Reactor just across the Palk straits
3) Indian fishermen using sea-floor dredging and other methods extremely harmful to marine ecology and destined to rapidly diminish and destroy available fish stocks. They also constantly encroach on Sri Lankan territorial waters and deprive Northern Fishermen of their legitimate catch.
4) Illegal traffic in goods, people and narcotics across the Palk straits, posing health concerns as well as other concerns to national security and integrity as well.
These are all too well known to most Sri Lankans.
1. The 13th Amendment to the constitution, where a system of provincial councils was imposed on Sri Lanka by India using strong-arm tactics, during the hay day of the TULF separatist bid for elam. It was hijacked by the LTTE after assassinating the TULF leaders. The terms of the Gandhi-Jayawardena agreement (which included the disarming of the LTTE by Indian forces) were not fulfilled by India, and the agreement is legally caduc. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka implemented the Provincial councils creating nine unnecessary administrative hubs that generate red tape, corruption and great expense. The main “reason” for the provincial councils was “power devolution” to the majority “Tamil” areas which the TULF claimed were their “exclusive traditional Tamil homelands”. The wish to merge the North with the East, where the East does not even have a Tamil majority is simply an anti-democratic Tamil hegemonist move. It has been amply proved, both by 30 years of failed negotiations, and then by a failed separatist military bid brutally pushed forward by the LTTE, that the concept of an exclusive traditional homeland of the Tamils will not be accepted by the majority community, or the international neighbours of Sri Lanka extending from Pakistan through India to Malaysia. Even G. G. Ponnambalam rejected it, saying that the whole of Ceylon is the homeland of the Tamils. The jingoist sections of Tamil Nadu politicians view Tamil Nationalism favourably only because they believe that a weakly integrated Northern Sri Lanka will merge into its fold, recreating a historic Chola kingdom.
A Northern Provincial Council (NPC) under the TNA existed from 2013 to 2018. It proved beyond doubt that the concept is a failure. It failed to do the minimum for the people. It did not even succeed in spending the budgets allocated to it, and showed how provincial administrations get bogged down in parochial animosities, irregularities, and fail to even rise above local “caste” prejudices.
Furthermore, NPC spent its time promoting hate against the majority community, building memorials for suicide bombers, and passing resolutions claiming that all Sri Lankan governments since 1948 have committed genocide against the Tamils. However, the Tamil population has increased by a factor larger than that of the Sinhalese since 1948. The Tamil separatist movement helped to spawn similar separatist movements among the Muslims. The initial Mulsim leaders of those movements have also been displaced by more radical leaders, just as the TULF was displaced. Such radials had no hesitation in getting financial support from extremist Islamic groups, and became a law unto themselves under the weak Maithree-Ranil government. Sinhala-Buddhist extremist groups also reacted and added to the unrest. The Easter bombings and the rise of sectarian violence have strong causative links with the devolution of power into the hands of provincial political thugs and war lords.
So, the provincial councils have failed. The political conditions that existed in the country in the 1970s do not exist any more. Sinhala and Tamil are official languages of the country. If adequate implementation of bilingualism is wanting, I find it no different from what has been achieved in Canada which has spent billions on bilingualims since the late 1960s, and yet many civil servants cannot muster anything beyond “Bon Jour”.
Unlike the separatist Tamils of the TNA, the Indian Tamils who opted to cooperate with the Sinhalese instead of joining in the separatist struggle have won their citizenship and now play an important role in the legislatures of the nation. Tamil politicians representing a mere 12% of the population have played a major determining role in Lankan administrations, but the polarization caused by the mishandling of the official languages act became a cancer in the body politic. Consequently we have communities that totally distrust each other, even to the extent of manipulating semantics with “Aekeeya and Orumitta” while claiming them to be the same as “Unitary”.
The constitutional message that Gotabaya Rajapakse must take to the Indians is as follows. The security of the nation, its economic growth, mercantile efficiency and ethnic harmony all require a well integrated and centralized constitution which respects the multi-ethnic character of the Nation. Lanka has, in the Greater Colombo metropolis a vibrant example of a multi-ethnic multi-religious community where Tamil culture and Hindu devotional practice are thriving, even with greater vigor than in Jaffna with its closed cajan fences and enracinated caste prejudices.
Technology has advanced well beyond what it was during the days of “Banda and Chelva”. There is no difficulty for ANYONE to work in ANY language, in any court or government office. This is not just for Tamil or Sinhala, but even for Malay or Urdu, because cell-phone browsers can adequately translate from any language to another. Voice Apps can be made to render the Sinhala or Tamil message into vocalized Tamil or Sinhala. A fast bullet train connecting Jaffna to Colombo moving at 250 kmph will convert Jaffna into a Colombo suburb. Colombo and Jaffna already have the same cellular-phone area code!
The solutions to the politically vexed language question or the ethnic question are technological, and we already have them.
The 13the Amendment to the constitution must be repealed. That is the bottom line where the New President must begin his discussions about constitutional matters.