Buddhist clergy performs in Chandrika's theatre

[TamilNet, Monday, 22 September 1997, 12:00 GMT]
The Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy rejected the government's 'devolution proposals' last week. The Sinhalese people, who dominate Sri Lanka's government and armed forces, are mostly Buddhist, and the clergy wields considerable influence in Sri Lankan politics. The Buddhist clergy has consistently opposed any concessions to the Tamils on the island and their rejection of the proposals was widely expected. However, the Sri Lankan President has a place for the Buddhist clergy's stance within her strategy to win the war.

The Sinhala Commission, an informal body formed by the Sinhala Buddhist clergy to look into 'discrimination' against the Sinhalese people, rejected the Sri Lankan government's devolution proposals, saying it would allow the Tamils to break away and establish their separate state.

The Sinhala Commission was formed a few months ago to look into the 'grievances' of the Sinhala community since independence from Britain in 1948. The Sinhalese have dominated Sri Lankan governments and the armed forces since independence.

The Buddhist clergy have routinely and zealously opposed any concession to the Tamils. Hence their rejection of the devolution proposals was widely expected. The public voicing of the opposition at this point is of particular significance, as no further details of the package have been released since 18 chapters were unveiled earlier this year.

The Buddhist hard-line opposition will enable the Sri Lankan government to claim its proposals are a 'fair' solution to the Tamils grievances. In fact, the more passionate the Buddhist rejection, the greater is the benefit for the Sri Lankan government.

Furthermore, as the LTTE has also rejected the devolution package, albeit for different reasons, the Sri Lankan government can portray both the Tamil Tigers and the Sinhala-Buddhist clergy as irrationally uncompromising. The package can then be presented as a 'middle of the road' solution to the international community.

However, the reasons for the rejections are different. The Tigers say that they are not willing to discuss any solution to the conflict whilst Sinhalese troops occupy areas of the Tamil homelands and without an international mediator being present. The Buddhist clergy simply do not want to make any concessions to the Tamils.

Ironically, the Sinhala-Buddhist hard-liners' demands have in fact been accommodated in the package. The proposals state that 'Buddhism has a first and foremost place in Sri Lanka', and outlaw support for separation of the island.

By contrast, the Sri Lankan government has not unveiled the power sharing aspects of its proposals and many other crucial details. Even though the government's propaganda machine describes the package as 'federalism in all but name', the actual measure of autonomy to be given to the regions is being deliberately withheld, and is expected to be relatively weak.

The package was initially announced in August 1995, prior to an unprecedented Sri Lankan military offensive against the ancient Tamil cultural capital of Jaffna. The details of the package have been delayed since, as the Sri Lankan government has sought a decisive military victory over the Tamil Tigers. The partial draft unveiled earlier this year indicates that it has been considerably watered down.

It is widely believed within the Tamil community that the package is merely intended to stay international concern while the Sri Lankan armed forces attempt to crush Tamil dissent via an all out war in the Tamil homelands.


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